Category Archives: Big kids

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

Denise writes:

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

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

So what should I do?"

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

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

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

Q&A: older child hurting a baby

Brandi writes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q&A: getting a 5-year-old to take medicine over the long haul

Molly writes:

"My 5 year old must take a pill in the morning and syrupy medicine at night. Its very important medication, and once she starts, she must keep it going for 9 months without fail (she was exposed to TB as a child).

How do I get her to understand the importance and severity, what kind of logic, reasoning, etc., should I employ?

I’m prepared to be creative with the procedure, ie mix the stuff with food, or crush it in food, or let her swallow it with favorite beverage, etc., but I’m not sure how to drive home the importance of the medication without scaring the beejeesus out of her."

I don’t have a 5-year-old yet, so I may be underestimating or overestimating the maturity of your daughter and 5-year-olds in general. But I’d be tempted not to make an issue out of it at all.

I wonder what would happen if you said to her, "You’re going to have to take this pill every morning until next summer, and this medicine every night. You can take it with chocolate milk if you want, but we have to make sure you do it before you brush your teeth each day. Got it? Great!" and then just moved on with the day? I think making a really big deal out of it and stressing how important it is will only a) freak her out, and b) set it up as something that she can fight you about. If it seems like a neutral issue but you never let her brush her teeth without having taken the meds, she’ll just get used to it.

Parents of 5+-year-olds? Does this make sense? Or am I setting Molly up for a wrestling match twice a day?

Q&A: bored kids

Kari writes:

"It’s only the end of June, and my 5-year-old and 3-year-old are already complaining that they are bored. There are no day camps for kids this young in our area. I’m hoping you and your readers will have some ideas to keep us all from killing each other before school starts again at the end of August."

I’m not sure I’m the person to ask about this, since my solution has been to cram the whole family into a rental car and drive all around the Midwest for five weeks. (The trip odometer flipped to 1800 miles yesterday, and we still have two weeks left of the trip.) My kids haven’t had time to be bored, what with the confusion about whose house they’re waking up in this morning, the vague stomachaches from too many brats and frozen custard, and all the lake sand in their cracks and crevices.

When I’m in NYC, we just spend all day long at the playground, going inside at midday to get out of the sun a little. If I lived in a house with a yard, I’d probably do what my parents did, which was designate a big corner of the yard to be a dirt pit. All the kids in the neighborhood used to congregate in our yard to dig in the dirt and mud. My parents had a crappy-looking yard, but the kids were happy (and practicing teamwork), and my parents always knew where we were.

In theory, I’m completely in favor of boredom for kids. It forces them to be creative and come up with things to do on their own. But the "I’m bo-ored!" refrain can really get on your last nerve. So maybe you can make a weekly plan for one activity a day, whether it’s a trip to the library (library reading contests can take up lots of time, and get your kids excited about books) or making a volcano in the back yard (or on a cookie sheet with a lip in the house–if you do it outside, you can use dirt instead of the doug to hold the bottle) or doing some cooking project (homemade bread takes a long time and needs no specialty equipment) or having a playdate with another kid from school. That one activity can give some structure to the day, and the kids can fill up the rest of the day with free play.

If the complaints get too hot and heavy, you can always confuse them by using the line my dad always laid on us: "Boredom is the soft underbelly of insensitivity." By the time they figure out what it means, they’ll be leaving for college.

Readers, help us out, please. How do you keep your kids occupied enough but not too scheduled in the summer?

Q&A: helping 5-year-old deal with joint custody

Regina writes:

"My ex-husband and I have a five-year-old daughter (as well as an 8-year-old daughter).  The time is split approximately 65-70% with me, and she’s (they) with her father every weekend (a long weekend).  We’ve been doing it this way since we separated when she was six months old. She has a very difficult time when it’s time to transition back to mom.  She cries on Tuesday mornings at school because she knows that Dad won’t be picking her up, but rather mom will. She has never cried about leaving me.

Her dad runs a diner near the school, and although Fridays are her days with mom, I still take her to the diner for lunch.  I also sometimes keep her dad’s dog, Biscuit.  I do these things to try and bridge the gap, and also to show her that mom and dad get along very well.  We haven’t even had so much as an argument this year. My heart bleeds for her, but at the same time I feel that the current arrangement is best.

She complains that she should have equal time with both of us, but I feel that a child should have a primary residence, especially a child her age. I have also tried to explain that although she spends one more night a week at mom’s house, if you don’t count the sleeping hours, she really only spends about 10 or so more hours at mom’s.

Her dad is a very social person and she has recently complained that when with him she doesn’t feel like she’s getting enough attention.  He almost always plans social events for them on weekends.  I know that he’s only trying to make sure they have fun with friends and parties, and that he’s really a good father.  But sometimes I wonder if there is enough "family time" there.  I haven’t approached this topic with him, as I don’t feel it’s my place to micromanage his time with the kids, and as I said, he’s trying to give them a good time.  I know he loves them.

I seem to be the "disciplinarian" of the two parents, and she has commented that daddy lets her do whatever she wants, and that all she has to do is throw a tantrum or tell him he’s handsome, and she gets what she wants.  I’m sure this is normal too. I know that this situation is what it is, and that it is normal for a child (especially a daddy’s girl) to make the transition.

This is such a difficult (and hurtful) situation for me, as my 8-year-old daughter and I are extremely close.  She is "my" girl, but she admits also that she loves both of us the same.  She has never appeared to have difficulty with the transitions, but rather looks forward to seeing both parents.

Of course I take this personally, but at the same time, I don’t.  Iknow that this is about her.  What can I do to help HER?"

This sounds like such a tough situation for all of you.

Before I say anything else, I need to say that I have zero experience with shared custody or negotiating parenting with a partner who doesn’t live with me. So take everything I say as just speculation, and please give at least equal weight to the commenters who are divorced or separated who have BTDT.

It sounds like your 5-year-old is having a hard time navigating her desires for closeness and contact, the two sets of rules at the different houses, and her changing ideas about boundaries and control that are part of her developmental stage. On the one hand she seems to want more of your ex-husband’s attention (even though she has plenty of his time). On the the other hand she’s confused about the different disciplinary styles. If you’re the heavy then of course she’s going to chafe at the rules and discipline, even though she craves boundaries. If he’s easier for her to manipulate then it makes her feel more pampered but also more out of control. I think it’s hard for kids (even those living in only one house) to reconcile their strong need for boundaries and rules with their increasing desire to control their own lives, let alone verbalize their confusion. Your younger daughter is clumsily trying to tell you that she feels stressed and confused about being confused. Your 8-year-old is better able to express herself, and has probably worked through a lot of the stuff your 5-year-old is just hitting now.

I don’t really know what’s going to fix things for you, but I’m positive that sitting down and talking about it with your ex will make it at least a little better. He may have no idea that this is happening. Or he may know it’s happening but have no idea how to deal with it (and might be increasing scheduling activities, thinking that will help your 5-year-old). She may be giving him a totally different story than she’s giving you. But whatever’s going on, the two of you need to be on the same page about how to deal with it. You don’t have to have the same rules and same style, but you do both have to have the same expectations and commitment to helping your daughter make it through this confusing stage.

It would probably help if you each could have little emotional check-ins with your daughter at the beginning and end of your respective times with her. Knowing that when she says "Daddy doesn’t make me do that" really means "I hate that you have rules but at the same time it makes me feel safe," or that "I don’t want to go back to Mom’s house because she never lets me do that" really means "I love being able to control you but it makes me feel scared, too" is going to help both you and your ex-husband keep things on an even keel for her.

That’s all I’ve got.  I know there are parents out there who are dealing with this same kind of thing right now or have gone through it in the past. Any insights you can offer Regina?

Q&A: teaching a preschooler how to read

Danielle writes:

"I know you touched on this briefly in a previous post, but I’m very
interested in finding out more about how to best teach my daughter how
to read. Actually, I really want to know how to teach her babysitter
how to teach her to read.

Dylan, my daughter, is 4.5 years old.
She is very stubborn and very opinionated. While we have a great
relationship, I am the first to admit that it is often hard for me to
sit down with her and calmly show her something. We end up bickering,
and nothing gets accomplished. Plus, I’ve found that she is much more
willing to listen to adults who aren’t me. (Are all kids that way?)

Long
story short, we have hired a full-time babysitter to watch Dylan and
her baby brother this summer while I am at work. She is starting in
July. In the mornings, she will be taking the kids on adventures to the
pool, the park, the library, etc. In the afternoon, she will be hanging
with them at the house so that the baby can take his long afternoon
nap. I thought it might be nice for Dylan to spend maybe 1/2 hour a day
working on her reading with the sitter (who has a degree in education)
while the baby naps. She knows her alphabet, can write every letter,
and knows the sound that every letter makes. She is very interested in
reading and has told me that she would like to work on her reading with
the sitter. Are there any books that you would recommend I pick up that
they could use for their lessons? I thought she might like to have a
little workbook of her own. She is very enamored of binders (she calls
them her "folder work"), so printouts that I can hole punch would be
great as well."

The previous post Danielle is referring to is this links roundup with a link to a PDF on Synthetic Phonics, a new way of teaching phonics from Scotland that seems to be more successsful than regular phonics teaching, especially with boys.

I don’t have any specific recommendation for books for your babysitter to use with your daughter. But I asked my mom, who is a former second grade teacher and reading specialist (including working with remedial reading and kids with learning disabilities back before anyone knew anything about learning disabilities). This is what she said about teaching preschool kids to read:

1) Separate the reading from the writing. Kids this age don’t always have the manual dexterity to write well, and they don’t need to write to be able to read. So work on the reading and if she’s able to write well she’ll start doing it on her own anyway.

2) Use manipulables instead of worksheets and books. The most entertaining and simple manipulables are letter blocks, magnetic letters that you can do on the refrigerator or a file cabinet or just on a table or floor (you might have to buy 2-3 sets to get enough letters to make the words you want to spell), and sidewalk chalk.

3) Let your daughter type words on the computer. (We do this by putting on Word, then setting the font size to 26 or 28 and turning on bold. We used to put on Caps Lock until we move on to lowercase letters, too. When I was a preschooler and learning to read my mom let me type letter by letter on her manual typewriter.) This is also a way to let a kid "write" who doesn’t have the physical ability to write, or to write quickly enough to get his or her thoughts down.

4) The best texts for reading are the things your daughter sees every day–cereal boxes, signs, all the words that are at her level.

5) Make sure to emphasize phonetically regular words so that she starts to internalize the rules.

6) Don’t forget to cover vowel and consonant clusters as well as the 26 letters. If you start out teaching that "th" makes the th sound, for example, you won’t have to have her struggle through sounding out t and then h and then having it not be the correct sound.

What my mom emphasized most is "It needs to be a game. If you push what the child is ready for you’ll only end up frustrating you both." In her experience, kids who had reading problems later on were usually the kids who were pushed to read before it really clicked in their heads. It sounds like Dylan is totally ready for it, but your babysitter should be alert to make sure she lets Dylan take the lead and backs off if she’s tired or distracted or just not into it that day.

Q&A: sunscreen

Jesse writes:

"Since
we are on the topic of what to put on little kids— do you are readers
have ideas about safe sunscreen or alternative strategies?

I
am reluctant to put it on my six month old since my ped basically said wait until
she is at least one, if not two.  This makes me nervous, coupled with the scary
fact that beauty products/ skincare stuff is not regulated the way food or
drugs are and the skin is the largest organ of the body.  So slathering stuff
on a baby/child’s skin means they will get a big dose of whatever that
stuff contains."

My ped, when I asked him if I should really hold off until 6 months to use sunscreen, looked at me in horror and said, "You can’t let him get sunburned!" So I used the sunscreen. But I did look for a health-food store brand that didn’t have all the nasty, irritating, potentially dangerous stuff. My ped said to get the kind that was a physical barrier, not a chemical barrier. This post on Babycenter agrees, and recommends a sunscreen with zinc oxide* or titanium dioxide.

Sure, it costs more than a tank full of gas, but the hope is that you’re not exposing your teeny babies to the sun all that much anyway, so you won’t be going through tubes of it.

The best thing to do is to keep your kids (of all ages) out of the direct sunlight between 10 and 4 every day. Have them play in the shade if they can. You could also invest in sun protective clothing for them to wear. You can get those full-body surfer suits with SPF protection at SkyMall OneStepAhead.com (they also have plain cotton T-shirts with SPF protection) and LandsEnd.com. Make sure you have a good sunscreen for your stroller if you have an infant.

But if you can’t keep your baby out of the sun, you do need to use suncreen to protect them from burns. So much of parenting is about managing risk, and this is another example of that. You can’t be sure that even the most expensive, "natural" suncreen is absolutely safe in large doses, but it’s better than letting your child get burned.

Reader recs for "safe" suncreens?

* Remember the diaper rash discussion when we found out that zinc oxide can be bad for your baby? Titanium dioxide appears to be harmful at large doses, but nowhere near as dangerous as zinc oxide is even at smaller doses. Titanium dioxide dispersion is drying to the skin ("May cause skin irritation. Repeated contact may result in defatting and drying of the skin.") but doesn’t cause burns or pox like zinc oxide can. I look for titanium dioxide instead of zinc oxide.

High Stakes

At brunch the other day one of my friends was holding my 1-year-old. He was chomping on a sour pickle (and flicking the juice all over my friend, who thought it was funny), and reached for the piece of cake on my friend’s plate. "Can he have that?" my friend asked. "Sure. He’s the second child. He can have pretty much anything," I replied.

I’ve been thinking about that conversation, and why it is that the experience of parenting the second child (or subsequent children) is so different from being a first-time parent. The recent exchange I had with Jody and Elizabeth on the posts about the woman who didn’t want to spend a weekend with her friends got me thinking about even more, specifically about how sometimes as mothers we can’t let anyone else take too much care of our children. But then I read Kateri’s latest post, and thought, "Aha!"

"Aha," because Kateri wrote in the most direct way possible about why being a first-time parent feels so high stakes and raising subsequent children does not. Go read her post. It’s short (something that can’t be said about any of my posts) and pithy and hit me right between the eyes because it’s the essence of why parenting’s so hard emotionally. I’ll wait. No, seriously–click and read it, leave a friendly comment, then come back here.

Now that you’re back, can we talk about two things? The first is how it feels to let go and let other people take some of the emotional burden of parenting, and the second is how to give yourself a break and avoid putting yourself in a perfectionistic parenting box.

Letting other people take over some of the care and emotional energy of thinking about your child is rough. That’s been one of the hardest things for me as a mother–the letting go of needing to be the one in charge all the time, or the repository of knowledge (and let’s face it, I’m Cliff Clavin), or the one the baby really wants. And I think that I had an easier time than lots of mothers do, all things considered. I had to make a serious effort to force myself to allow my husband to do things the way he wanted to with our son when he was tiny. It was hard to listen to my son crying, knowing that I knew how he wanted to be held and that my husband wasn’t doing it "the right way." I started leaving the apartment so I wouldn’t have to swallow my words of "advice" to my husband.

But it got easier and my husband started to know what our son needed more and more. The feedback loop worked like a charm. And then, when my husband was laid off and home all the time, he and my son really learned each other. He had 15 months of being at least as hands-on as I was, and I think that’s still a major influence on our relationship and my identity as a mother. At one point I started being afraid that my husband might be a better parent than I am. When I realized how scared I was of that, I forced myself to really consider that it might be the case. And you know what happened? Nothing. If my husband was a better parent than I was, it was still OK. I was still a great mother, my son still loved me, and the world kept turning.

So, Question #1 for you: Do you feel like you’ve come to terms with other people being good at caring for your child? If yes, how did you do it, and if no, what work do you think you could do to get there?

On to the second thing, which is giving yourself a break and making parenting decisions less high-stakes. I’m not sure there’s really any good way to do it. First-time parents are, by nature, concerned about everything they do in taking care of their children, and that’s the way it’s supposed to be. I just wish we could put less pressure on ourselves to do things perfectly all the time. That pressure leads to stress, depression, and the one-upsmanship that makes interactions with other parents so much less helpful than they could be.

I don’t tend to feel guilt very often or to let others’ opinions of me guide my thoughts or actions. (I think that’s a result of the way I approach decisionmaking about parenting and in general, but that’s a whole different post.) But even if I did, I think I’ve devised a pretty decent strategy for putting parenting decisions into perspective. When I was pregnant with my first son, I made a parenting mission statement for myself. I figured out what were my main goals as a parent, and then some smaller goals, too. When I started to get stressed out about what I should do, I referred back to my mission statement. If it didn’t have anything to do with one of those goals, I just took the path of least resistance or more fun. It’s been remarkably freeing.

So, Question #2: How do you keep yourself from sweating every small decision you have to make as a parent? Is it getting easier as your child(ren) grows older?

I’m hoping we can start to find some way out of the mental and emotional mazes we keep ourselves running around in. So please share your experience, whether you’ve gotten to where you want to be or not. As usual, you can post anonymously if you want to by putting "www.google.com" or "www.fake.com" into the "URL" box and only I’ll be able to see whatever real or fake email address you put in the "Email Address" box.

The Results of the Early Riser Question

(More thoughts on the mom who won’t have a ladies’ weekend with her friends right below this post.)

This is in response to the original early riser post.

So, not surprisingly, it looks like how your kid sleeps and reacts to bedtimes and other sleeping conditions are a function of his or her personality.

Well, duh. I could have told myself that, I guess.

But it does look like there are two Best Practices that seem to work for a majority of kids:

1. Early bedtime. Kids do really each seem to have that sweet spot. For every one of wix’s nightowl kids, it seems there are a few of Bethany’s 6-pm-bedtime kids. It wouldn’t hurt anything to try jiggling your kid’s bedtime a little earlier to see what happens.

On a personal note, my younger one seems to have hit the 55-week developmental spurt (thank you Wonder Weeks) and slept for 11.5 hours straight last night. My older one went to bed 30 minutes earlier than usual last night and slept until 7. We’ll see what happens tonight.

2. Darken the windows. It seems like most people experienced some morning benefits of darkening the windows. But that doesn’t necessarily mean spending big bucks on blackout shades, because it turns out that you can use cardboard or plain old aluminum foil (which will also protect your children from alien invasion, natch), and HollyRhea reports that you can buy blackout shade fabric at the fabric store and cut it to fit your window. How ya like us now, overpriced blackout window shade makers?

On the other hand, there didn’t seem to be any real consensus on naps. Some people felt good naps helped their children’s nighttime sleep (the sleep-begets-sleep kids), while others observed that their kids slept better when they dropped the nap or took it earlier in the day (the go-til-you-drop kids). So it seems like trial and error is what we’re left with.

Any other insights? In some ways it makes me feel a little better to know that there isn’t some magic secret that I’ve just been unaware of this whole time.

Q&A: early rising

5:30 a.m. Why do I have to know it even exists?

And yet I do, for several weeks in a row now. The 4-year-old and 1-year-old seem to be taking turns waking up then and not going back to sleep.

I am not the only one with this problem. Elise wrote in to ask me what she could do about it with her 3-year-old. Rachel asked me what to do about it with a 10-month-old. Deb is wondering about it with her 15-month-old. Kelley wants to know how to stop her 2-year-old from waking up too early.

Now what’s fascinating me about all of this is that our early rising problems here Chez Moxie started (and by "started" I mean "cycled around again," because we’ve had early rising phases here before) about a month or so ago, the same time I started getting emails from readers about it. So I think it might have something to do with the time change or weather. Or else it could be some kind of organized plot by the under-5 set to drive grownups insane slowly.

I can tell you what worked for a few weeks with our 4-year-old, but seems to have lost its magic. We got him a digital alarm clock, and told him not to come out his room until the first number was a 7. It worked like a charm for a few weeks, but then he started coming in and stage whispering, "The first number is a 6, Mama, but I’m not going to wake you up until it’s a 7." Then 6 became 5. So the alarm clock has turned into a bust. (Although the alarm part does seem to go off at completely random times, which is freaky, but adds some interest to the day.)

The only thing that worked for us when our older son was a baby (around 10 months old) was waiting it out. He just started sleeping in later and later progressively, and by 15 months he was waking up at around 6:30 or 7. But I also knew there was no way CIO would work for him (he could have and would have cried for hours), plus I wasn’t willing to do it anyway, so I never seriously considered it (except in a "What if I just ran away and moved into a luxury hotel by myself?" kind of way).

When he was 2 and went through early rising phases we’d just let him climb in with us and he’d usually fall back asleep. Some mornings one of us would go with him into his room and fall back asleep in his bed with him. So if that isn’t working I don’t have anything else for that age.

I clearly have no answers to this early rising problem, so instead I’m going to ask a series of questions. You’ll answer to the best of your abilities, and maybe we can piece this thing together, erm, together.

1. Are those of you in the Southern Hemisphere also dealing with this early rising thing, or is it just happening to those of us transitioning from spring into summer?

2. Do you see any correlation between the time the child went to bed and the time s/he wakes up?

3. Do you see any correlation between activity level one day and early rising or lack of it the next morning?

4. Does the child’s sleeping situation (crib, bed, co-sleeping) seem to affect early rising? (Our data points are a co-sleeping 1-year-old and a bed-in-his-own-room-sleeping 4-year-old.)

5. Are there mornings in which your early riser falls back asleep? If so, have you noticed anything those mornings seem to have in common?

6. Is there anything else you can think of that I’m not asking about?

7. Do blackout shades work? And if they do, do they work well enough to make them worth the $$$?

8. If it was legal to give your child a sleep aid like Ambien or, say, opium, would you do so?

So give me your answers and we’ll see if we can figure anything out.