Category Archives: Preschooler

Q&A: rash on face of preschooler

You know, it's really difficult to write an internet advice column when your computer won't connect to your wireless connection. Gah. I'm up to here with Vista. I'm coming to you from the cafe near my apartment with the post that was supposed to go up yesterday.

Robin writes:

"Because of my work schedule, my daughter spends the weekend at her grandparents' once a month. Whenever I pick her up, she has a red rash on her cheeks. She doesn't get this rash at home, and after a day or two of putting my regular face lotion on her cheeks it fades away. I've been wracking my brain to figure out what could be causing it, but can't figure it out. (I don't want to say anything to my parents since the rash isn't painful to my daughter and I don't want to hurt their feelings because they seriously overreact to stuff like that.) They have cats, but so do I. She doesn't have environmental allergies. I don't think they're feeding her anything strange.

Do you or your readers have any ideas about what this could be? It's just red and kind of flaky, but not oozy and not really raised. and it doesn't hurt or make her itch."

Hmm. I wish we had a photo of this, as that would make it lots easier to diagnose.

I used to work in test prep, so my instinct is to use process of elimination to narrow down what it could be. I'm going to say that it's not anything fungal because it's not oozy and it goes away so quickly just with regular facial lotion.

I'm also going to say it's not a bacterial infection for the same reason.

It kind of sounds like the rash both of my kids have gotten (my older one grew out of it when he was around 5) from being out in the cold. A red, flaky rash that was helped by putting on lotion but would also go away on its own if I kept him out of the cold for a couple of days. So that may be worth thinking about, especially if she goes outside to play a lot at her grandparents and doesn't so much at your place.

You could take another look at food stuff. You say she doesn't eat anything "strange," but anything with artificial colors or flavors or additives could do it. And individual people are sensitive to all kinds of things (there are even people who are allergic to plain white rice), so it could be something healthy that your daughter's system just has a problem with.

The other thing I'm thinking is detergent or fabric softener on the pillows she sleeps on. That could definitely cause contact rashes. And if her skin gets a breather at your place, plus the lotion, that could explain it.

Readers, do you have any other ideas? Has anyone been through this?

Q&A: pooping only in diaper

Jillian writes:

"N (boy) is 3 years old and toilet trained for pee and 'diaper trained'for poo. That is, he can control when he poos, but refuses to do it in
the toilet. He holds it until he's in bed for nap or the night (the
only time he gets a diaper) and then lets loose. I've tried every form
of incentive and they don't work. He's done it a couple of times in the
toilet for chocolate, a cupcake AND 'toilet fairy' stickers (yes, all
at once!) but he's back to doing it in the diaper. He has a
fearful reaction to the idea of sitting on the toilet for poo combined
with that 3-year old need for control. I can't even make him do it in
the diaper in the bathroom – he has to be in his bedroom. I'm not
pushing the issue because I don't want him to get constipated but
changing a 3 year old's poopy diaper is getting old fast. Quite
frankly, it's gross.

Would love to hear from anyone who's been there, done that."

I have no idea. I wish I did, but as I say every time we have a potty learning question, both my boys trained themselves, and I was just kind of the facilitator (and my babysitter B, too, with the second one). So I really have no secrets or much to offer on this.

So I'm tossing it out to the readers, and hoping someone's been through this and has some words of advice for Jillian. I agree that it seems counterproductive to try to force it. Would it help to have N shadow another kid who poops in the toilet so he'd be encourage by peer pressure? It sounds like rewards aren't working. Anything else anyone can suggest?

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: 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: 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: grandparents moving abroad

Kate writes:

"In one week, my in-laws are moving abroad. This is not a temporarymove; they bought a house there and have shipped their worldly
possessions across the ocean. They are moving to a country that we
visit regularly, though not terribly frequently, and to which we have
many connections–familial and otherwise. We are actually seriously
contemplating following them, but we don't know when, anywhere from six
months to six years, say.

I am happy for them, although I haven't come to grips with the
fact that I am losing free babysitting. My husband is pretty devastated
(but out of the purview of this arena).

My 4.5 year old daughter, who to this point has had this set of
grandparents living 5 miles away, is starting to realize that the hour
is nigh for their move. She's heartbroken. We went to a big send-off
for them today, and while she was fine at the party, beforehand she was
SO upset about them moving. She knows where they are going, that they
will be in the same country as her cousins, that we will try to visit
them soon. But she realizes that we won't have the casual drop-in
relationship that she has now.

They will have a U.S. VOIP number, so we will of course let her
call whenever she wants, time zones permitting. Unfortunately, they're
not terribly tech savvy, so I think it would be like pulling teeth to
get them to use Skype or some sort of internet video system. But maybe
they'll change their tune.

In the meantime, is there something we can do to make this easier
for her? (My 2.5 year old son also claims he's sad and is going to miss
them, but I am not sure how much is him and how much is feeding off of
her. He is also close to them, but doesn't quite have the long view
that she does.) We just don't know what to say.

P.S. We are also, for a variety of reasons, driving them to the airport next weekend."

Oh, this sounds so tough.

I wish I had some answers, but my parents have always lived too far away from us, so I don't have anything to ease the pain of the separation. My kids miss my parents, but it's not a new situation, so I don't know how to help the transition.

It seems like it's the transition that's the problem, as she's upset about it now. Kids adapt, and in a few months she'll be used to not having them around, but it's the sadness of the separation that's the problem right now.

Do any of you have any experience with loved-ones moving away when a child is old enough to know that the separation is going to be hard? Is there a way to ease this? Or is it just something that is going to hurt a lot, and the parents just have to be there to help pick up the pieces?

More unformed thoughts on those rough times (3 1/2-year-olds)

So I've been thinking a lot about this 3 1/2-year-old thing. And how it really seems to me like all the "difficult" stages seem to be at times that double: 4 months, 9 months, 18 months, 3 1/2 years, 7 years, 14 years. I don't know if that means anything, except that if you're 28 maybe you're having a tough time, too. And 56 might also be rough…

Anyway, it seems like the difficulties start out more weighted toward the physical but become progressively more emotional as the people get older. So that first rough stage at 4 months is mostly about being fussy and not being able to sleep. Then at 9 months it's not sleeping but more generalized crankiness. 1 months seems to be a tie between physical and emotional distress, and then by 3 1/2 it really seems to be mostly emotional (even if all of this is caused by some physical process of development in the brain).

It feels to me, from being on the outside of it, that the developmental spurt that's happening somehow seems to remove the protective emotional layers somehow, so that all the person's emotions are right there, waiting to bubble over at any second. The person on the inside can't process or deal with or control them. Which is why they get stuck in a "Pick me up!! Put me down!!" loop. It's like they have an exposed nerve, and any time anything brushes against it they just go off from the overload.

I've noticed that when I'm feeling emotionally fried, my child being in one of these emotional wack-out times just sets me off, too. But when I'm on an even keel, my response just instinctively seems to be more one of "Oh you poor sweet little thing. Let me give you a hug."

Does this resonate with anyone? About any of the stages? About yourself? Or do you think there's something different or more going on?

For those of you who have or are having or considering second children

So a few more questions came in over the last week or so about second children. A couple of them from people who were either newly pregnant with the second or about to give birth, and were wondering if they were setting themselves up for disaster. The real concern for both those writers seemed to be the overwhelming sense of guilt at breaking up the little party the first child had, combined with the worry that they'd never be able to love the second child the way they loved the first.

I don't know that I have so much to offer here. I definitely felt both those feelings when I was having my second son. And I think it's a mistake to resort to the old "a sibling is the best gift you can give" line to comfort yourself, even if you do believe it. (I do for myself, because my relationship with my brother is the most important relationship I've had, aside from the one with my children.) Because even as wonderful as it is to have a sibling, there is loss for the older child. If nothing else, there's loss of having all the focus (which, again, could also be a good thing), but there's loss of the immediacy and the cocoon.

Does the good outweigh the bad? For my kids, yes. But it's important to acknowledge for yourself that it's not all happiness all the time. Allow yourself to feel a little sad about it, even as you look forward to the baby.

Can I ask a favor? If there's anyone who truly doesn't love their second (or later) child as much as the first, could you comment on it anonymously? I've never heard of it happening, but of course it's something you could never say in public. So if there is someone, please put it here anonymously, and we'll see if it's a realistic fear, or if loving the second one as much as the first is just something you can't imagine until you're there.

The other questions I got were from a very new mom-of-two and one about to pop any second now, who were really terrified of what was going to happen when their help (spouses and family) were gone and they had to be alone with the two kids. The spacing was right around 2 years for both of these moms, and the primary concern was how to keep the older one calm and happy while they got the baby to sleep. And yeah, that's a concern, because a 2-year-old's needs are very immediate, as are an infant's, so it could turn into a donnybrook easily.

Mine were 3 years apart, so my older one watched a lot of Bob the Builder DVDs while I was getting the little one down to sleep in those early days. For those of you with kids spaced closer than 2 1/2 years apart, how did you keep the older one chill while you were getting the little one to sleep? Any and all suggestions welcome.

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.

Q&A: special needs child

Katie writes:

“I have a 3-year-old son with autism and figure at least some of your readers have experience with special needs. My boy was diagnosed as having moderate autism just before he turned 2, and I am so proud of how far he has come. (I could write a whole separate e-mail about all of the therapies and interventions he has endured.) He is very verbal now and, though he is in a special preschool class, I believe he will be mainstreamed into a regular classroom by elementary school and be almost indistinguishable from his typical peers.


My dilemma is whether I should ever tell him about his autism. He hears me speak of it often now; I have no qualms about telling someone he is on the spectrum, partly because it explains some of his behaviors that new friends may find odd, and partly because I am so proud of all the progress he has made. But he is getting closer to the age when he will really pick up on what I’m saying when I speak to others about him.


I don’t want to completely ignore it or act as if it never happened or make it into this big secretive talk–“Son, let’s sit down for an important talk about something terrible about you.” It is a part of who he is, a part of his past and present. I guess what I’m looking for is wisdom from others who may have gone through this before. Do I stop mentioning it so much? Do I wait for him to ask me something down the road? Do I phase out the word “autism” as his symptoms show up less and less?”

Hmm. On the one hand, I feel like he’s going to know there’s something different about him. On the other hand, you don’t want him to grow up thinking there’s something less about him. So how do you balance the two–acknowledging that he’s got some things that are different about him but also letting him know that he’s great the way he is?


I wrote that first parapgrah three weeks ago, and have been sitting on this post ever since, trying to figure out what to write. The fact is, I don’t know what it’s like to have a special needs child. It would be disingenuous of me to talk about it, I think, because I’ve never had the experience of parenting a child who isn’t always going to be received easily by the world. (I definitely think I have a special responsibility in raising two white men in America, but that’s a different post.)


I’d love to hear from moms and dads of kids who don’t fit neatly into the boxes that we expect kids to fit into. Not just kids who have autism, but kids who have any other kind of developmental issue, kids who have chronic illnesses, kids who look different.


How do you manage their “issues” (treatments, therapies, medical inteventions, etc.) while still loving and respecting them as people? How do you straddle the line between living your experience as the parent of a special needs child and honoring their experience as a special needs person? What if the “special need” is something that isn’t recognized by the larger world (like being a highly sensitive or spirited person)?


Please talk about it. If you want to link to other supportive areas of the internet, please do. (If you type in the http:// before the www part of the address it’ll automatically hyperlink so people can just click through your comment.)