Category Archives: Safety

Q&A: grandfather surfing naughty sites

Rebecca writes:

“Frankly, I can’t believe I’m asking this question, for so many reasons. One is that I have a vague feeling that I’m being naive. Second, it’s embarrassing to ask about porn. But here goes.

I just discovered that my father in law spends a great deal of his time on the internet watching porn videos, photos, etc. I discovered this because we were staying with them for almost a week and were allowed liberal use of their computer. I am an email and Google junkie so I spent time checking messages and Googling things like where I could find an urgent care center in Albuquerque for my 4-month old with an ear infection. Anyhoodle, my FIL’s version of Firefox shows you the most frequent Google searches when you begin to type in the URL bar. And that’s how I found that the most frequent search is a porn site.
This lead me to a slightly unethical search of his internet history. And *that*
lead me to promise myself never to look at his history again, a) because it’s so clearly none of my business, and b) I don’t want to know any more than I know now, considering I want to continue the lovely relationship we currently have.

My question is this: is there any reason to be concerned for my daughter’s safety? My gut tells me that I don’t have anything to worry about. But my gut also tells me, as I’m the child of a rape victim, that you really and truly never know. The statistics are there to prove it.

My daughter spends maybe one weekend every month or two with her grandparents, largely with us around as well. But my husband and I do occasionally go out to dinner while we’re visiting them (in NM, we live in TX) and leave the baby with her grandfather and
grandmother.

The porn habit seems to be a daily event, from what I can glean from the history. It seems that he checks his email and watches some porn. My feeling is that sexual desires, even the raunchy ones, are perfectly, beautifully normal. Meeting your needs is also perfectly normal. But something about daily dates with porn on the internet plus caring for my baby makes me squeamish.”

Boy are there a whole lotta issues in this question! Let’s start with the issues directly involving your daughter. I am NOT NOT NOT an expert on sex or sexuality or porn or sexual abuse. But it’s my understanding that sexual proclivities don’t cross. So a man who’s looking at porn of adult women is not interested in little kids. I’d hazard a guess that the majority of men who would definitely cross the street to check out Playboy would be absolutely repulsed by the idea of a little kid in a sexual way. So, in your situation, I don’t think I’d be concerned about your FIL hurting your daughter directly.

However, that doesn’t mean that she couldn’t be hurt by accidentally being exposed to porn. Showing kids pornographic and sexual material while they’re still children is a form of sexual abuse.(and it can be testing/prepping behavior if the person is intending to molest the child.)  Even if your FIL would never ever intend it, the fact that you could get to it so easily when you weren’t trying means that any kid using his computer could get their easily, too, without trying. Your daughter’s going to be at the age pretty soon when she’s going to want to do Neopets or that penguin game or whatever, and she’ll want to do it while she’s visiting them, and probably show it off to her grandparents. Two misplaced clicks and she’s seeing something she really shouldn’t be seeing.

Here’s the part of the post when I’m supposed to talk about whether porn is good or bad or whatever. Personally, I think it’s damaging to the people who make it more than to many of the people who use it. But I know people on both sides of the issue who work(ed) in the porn/sex industry. Some say it’s degrading and coercive; others say it’s empowering and liberating. I think for users it can be harmless in some situations, but extremely damaging in others. Using porn if your partner doesn’t know is, to me, a problem. And avoiding your partner in order to use porn is a very very serious problem.

The other aspect to worry about is addiction. If he’s doing it every day, then he could be addicted. If he’s choosing porn over other activities, that’s definitely addiction. As with other addictions, it could cause him to act irrationally, but the bigger issue is the isolation there’s going to be between him and the people he’s distancing from (by using the porn) and hiding it from.

I’m wondering if there’s a problem in your in-laws’ marriage. If it’s something physical, maybe they’ve chosen porn for your FIL as a way to live with it as well as they can. If they haven’t chose the porn together, though, this could be something that’s going to come out and be a problem. And you may end up having to deal with some fallout.

So, to recap this super-long post: The porn could be a problem either for your FIL alone, or for your FIL and for his marriage. So just be prepared that it could blow up and involve the whole family. Or perhaps it’s just a pragmatic way of dealing with some physical side effects of getting older.

Your immediate concern should be making sure that your daughter doesn’t see the porn. The most direct way to do this is to make sure your FIL keeps it where she can’t see it. You shouldn’t have to have this conversation with him (I cannot think of a conversation that could possibly be more awkward between FIL and DIL!). Instead, get your husband to mention it. He can use the computer and pretend that he came upon the sites, and say something like, “Dude, can you hide your porn? What if my daughter sees it??” and it’ll be one of those nudge-nudge Guy Things. And if your FIL is a decent guy he’ll rush to shield your daughter from anything too old for her, and problem solved.

Keep your eyes and ears open, and trust your instincts. It wouldn’t hurt to reread Protecting the Gift. And good for you for poking around to protect your baby.

Anyone think I’m totally off the mark? Other opinions? Experiences? Anyone worked in the sex industry who wants to comment? Agreement?

Q&A: 15-month-old hitting and dealing with your mother

Amy writes:

"I have a 15 month old son who is such a love.  It has been love at first sight since the beginning.  We spend almost all of our time together.  My boyfriend has a very unpredictable schedule so we have days when it is all three of us but for the most part it is always me & child together (which i love so much).  Recently he has started slapping me or hitting me in the face.  Mostly it is when he is tired, at the end of his little rope… like on the final walk home from a morning out or before bed as we lie in bed together nursing and then if he isn’t going down he gets a little excited and slaps me or (this is great) when i am carrying him up 4 or 5 flights of stairs with grocery bags in each hand with him in an ergo carrier.  I do think it has something to do with unexpended body energy and tired state of mind for the most part but some days i really do have to go to the post office and the grocery store and he has to come with me.  Anyway, besides angering me to no end, it’s really embarrassing to be slapped in the face by a toddler and then hear laughing as I say NO.   Or try to catch his hands before he does it again and have him laughing the whole time.  I have experimented with different no’s:  Holding his hands down and firmly saying no.  He cries (because he hates to be restrained at all) and then hugs me. Which all feels bad.  Trying a surprise "NO!" in a louder, stronger tone which feels awful and is also really coming from an anger place and not something I believe in when setting boundaries for a baby.  He laughs.  I think its nervous laughter because I never use that tone or volume of voice with him but maybe he is just laughing at me.
To compound matters, I am out of the country for a bit and my mother came to visit.  It has taken a while for her to completely accept the way that i am raising the baby — extended breastfeeding, breastfeeding on demand, no CIO, no crib, no stroller until recently (one reason is just logistical, easier to navigate new york city with a baby on you rather than pushing a stroller but I also love having him near and up high with me), etc. etc. …Anyway, she is pretty much completely on board with me now as he has turned out to be such a happy, loving, independent, funny, wonderful person… there’s not much to fight me about.  But when it comes to the hitting me, well it makes me feel like a pushover in front of her, that my parenting is somehow too laid back or child centered.  She suggests growling "No" loudly and basically scaring him into behaving. 
What I really don’t like is reacting out of anger.  My mother really did get angry, angry at us when we were children.  She hit us (now she is horrified that she did such a thing), yelled & screamed at us when we pushed limits or broke rules and really we were very scared of her when she was angry.  It never stopped us from doing what we were going to do, I think, but it just made us better at not being caught.  I think she had a short fuse due to all of the turmoil that was happening in our lives.  I understand & forgive it all.   We’re really close and can talk about all of these things for the most part but her first instincts in terms of parenting advice always seem a little insane to me. obviously, having a child brings up all of these things for me.  How do I want to do it?  How do I set boundaries with out using FEAR and anger.  The baby is 15 months old.  He’s a baby.  Being angry at a baby is one of the worst feelings in the world.   I think I need a good plan to deal with this slapping so that I don’t allow it to fester and then blow up at him (which has happened a couple of times, my worst parenting moments to date) and also to set me on the right track for being strong and loving, setting boundaries with love."
There are three issues in this email: the hitting stage some toddlers go through, setting firm limits without being punitive, and negotiating your relationship with your own mother. Let’s do the first one and part of the second today, and then start a new topic about dealing with your parents tomorrow.
I don’t have an answer for the hitting issue. When there’s a clear reason a behavior is happening, you can address it, but I’m not sure the reasons young toddlers hit is always that clear-cut. If he were closer to 2 years old, he’d probably be hitting out of anger and frustration, so giving him another way to channel those feelings and at the same time helping him communicate better would probably curb the hitting quickly. But it’s not usually so clear-cut with a young toddler (under 18 months). Sometimes they hit out of tiredness, sometimes out of frustration, but sometimes they just hit because they like the way it feels, or think it’s funny.
I think the best thing you can do is try to keep him out of situations that provoke it (figure out if there’s a better time of day to do errands and a worse time, and try to avoid the worse time). At the same time, think about your feelings. What is it that makes you feel so embarrassed about being hit by him? Is this something that makes you feel worse than the other stuff he does that you don’t like? It seems like this hit (ha ha) a particular nerve. I’m wondering if maybe this was an issue your mom had particular problems with and was extra-punitive with you about. Or maybe this reverberates in you because you did get spanked as a kid. (That one sounds veeery familiar to me. Getting hit by my younger one shot right through to my psyche, and I think it’s because I felt so enraged when I’d get spanked as a kid.)
At any rate, it’s probably just a phase, so knowing that, it’s not a do-or-die situation to curb the behavior, as it’ll pass anyway. So you could use this time to figure out how you’re going to deal with misbehavior that sparks strong feelings in you.
The other thing is to figure out what’s going to work with him. I did do the roaring thing with my older son, and it stopped him in his tracks but after a quick hug he moved on (without doing the behavior I’d roared to stop). In other words, it worked the way it needed to, without making him feel bad (just startled!). My younger one, though, gets so upset if spoken harshly to, which makes it awful if he runs away someplace he’s not supposed to, because there’s no way to react except to scream "NO!"" BUt once we’ve talked about it, he does a great job with role-playing and pretending to be ä cat who stops at the curb" or whatever.
In other words, it’s all a process. And part of getting to know your child and yourself. And you’re going to make mistakes. And you’re going to have to do things that you don’t like (like making your kid cry when you scream "NO!" to stop him from running into the street). And your kid will piss you off, and your kid will piss you off. But you’ll work your way through it together.
I’m really hoping Sharon Silver has some comments about all this (especially the hitting), because I’ve never been good with figuring out what to do when the kid really does think it’s just fun.
Anyone else?

Q&A: Who do you trust with your child’s well-being

Shandra writes:

"Short background: I was a victim of incest by an extended family
member as a child; my parents failed to protect me and my mother’s
narcissism, in particular, was also a factor in being Somewhat Messed
Up.

My son is two now and I got a pretty much
dream job that’s a perfect match for me – the kind of timing that
doesn’t happen very often. 

So I carefully
visited a lot of daycares. I have a nanny who still watches my son once
a week, but we could not afford her full-time, and also I generally
have felt that if it’s full-time care of a toddler, a centre may be
safer because the staff get breaks and things. I chose this centre
because they were open and friendly and warm, the physical space was
good, and most importantly a toddler from our playgroup has been going
there and thriving (on the surface) and her mom recommended it. It’s a
Montessori. My parents wanted to be my son’s full-time caregivers, but,
see background, above.

Flash
forward to today, 4 weeks into the full time daycare thing. It was
grandparents day and my parents went, and they are appalled at how
miserable they perceive my son to be and want to have a huge family
meeting and g-d knows what all else. I called the school and my son’s
teacher said that yes, he was upset when they were here, the way that
he is upset when we drop him off and pick him up, but that he was fine
the rest of the day, except at nap, because he often is a little teary
at nap, so they had to rub his back for him. 

He
does cry at dropoff and pick up, and he does tell us that he does not
like school (although he also says he likes the blocks, painting, his
friends, and his teacher).  I would say until today that I thought he
was having adjustment issues but was generally fine – eats, sleeps,
laughs, plays, etc., fine when he is at home. My mother spidey sense is
horribly upset at walking away from my son every day, but is not going
off that he is being damaged awfully or anything like that.

And
yet I feel like I should take my parents’ concerns seriously because I
am kind of invested in the dream job and that may cloud my judgment.
My husband, who does all the dropping off, thinks the school is fine
and that our son is having some trouble adjusting (but not horrible all
day crying or anything) and that it is really too early to tell any
more than that,

So my core question is, how
do you know if daycare is working or not working? How do you know
whether to trust the staff when they say your child is okay? I am
ambivalent because (see incest survivor, above) I have no trust in
anyone really."

This one’s a gut-punch, for sure. I’m so, so sorry for the incest and your damaged relationship with your mother. But I’m so happy for you for your job!

It sounds like you’re in a huge conundrum: Trust yourself in this situation, and you’re risking being a mother like your own mother was, who didn’t protect her child from horrible emotional damage. Or trust your mother, and potentially protect your child, except that how can you trust your mother when you know she’s not trustworthy?

Now I certainly don’t have any idea whether things are going well at daycare. But I do think there are somethings you can tease out about motives of the various parties involved here:

Your husband: You know his main concern is for your son’s well-being, with yours and your family unit’s coming a close next. His opinion and judgment counts for a ton.

Your son: He’s 2, and all he knows is that he wants to be with you, because that’s the way it’s always been. Transition times are tough for this age, so he cries and clings. (I actually think it’s worse when they don’t cry and cling. The other day I left my younger one with our new babysitter B–a friend from church who is 22, energetic, goofy, and thinks he poops rainbows just like I do–and he wouldn’t look at me when I tried to kiss him goodbye. That about killed me. Even though I know he has tons of fun with B. Don’t you love how I turn everyone else’s problems into mine? Charming, I know.) But he’s also adaptable and looking for a good time, and is probably loving hanging out with the other kids and all the new-to-him toys. In short, he’s an unreliable witness about the daycare center, because he may love it while he’s there but hate being dropped off and picked up. To a 2-year-old, that’s completely logical.

The teachers at the center: IME, daycare providers and teachers will definitely tell you when your child is having problems. They want you to be able to help from your end working on the adjustment thing. And it doesn’t help them one bit to have a miserable kid in their class, since it distracts them from the group as a whole. I just don’t think they’d be telling you he’s fine if he was miserable, because it goes against their best interests.

The other playgroup mom: Her only motive, it seems, is to tell you about a place she likes and her daughter is happy at. Presumably she’s your friend (or at least friendly acquaintance), and she wanted to offer a good solid solution to your childcare problem.

You: You know you’re only looking out for your son’s best interest, but your own faith in your abilities to judge a situation is shaken because the story you tell yourself is that you don’t trust anyone. The overwhelming feeling I get from reading your email, though, is that you don’t trust your parents. So you’re in this conundrum now in which not trusting your parents could potentially turn you into your mother. But trusting your parents could drag you under emotionally, because it means that a) you failed to protect your son initially, and b) you’re still that same scared kid who couldn’t do anything to help herself.

And finally, your parents: They wanted to be your son’s full-time caregivers, and were hurt when you didn’t ask them. They clearly have major lingering feelings (guilt, fear, denial, something else) about not having protected you when you were young. Maybe wanting to take care of your son is the way they think they can "make up for" what happened to you. Or maybe they are just in denial that anything that bad happened to you, and think they can do a better job with your son than anyone else can. At any rate, to me it sounds like they were predisposed to hate the daycare from the beginning, because his going to daycare instead of being with them reflects badly on them. Of everyone involved in the scenario, they’re the ones with the cloudy motivations. But you knew that already.

I can’t really come up with a way to summarize that this isn’t going to tell Shandra what to do, and I’m not going to do that. I am going to say that she knows more about herself than her parents can afford to give her credit for. This is sort of a real-life version of Prisoner’s Dilemma, only in this case, Shandra knows who the other prisoners are, and what their motivations are.

Other thoughts?

Q&A: toddler understanding “no”

Dawn writes:

"At what point does a child understand
‘No’?  My 13 month old son is very very active, a climber and so
curious that he gets himself into places and things he really
shouldn’t. I try the calm ‘no’, I try a louder ‘no’, I distract him,
take him away from the object – (the tv, the phone, the dog dish) but
he beelines right back to it. Over and over and over. It’s really funny
sometimes but we try not to let him see us laugh of course! Eventually he gets frustrated and starts to grizzle. I don’t give in
but am I expecting too much to think he does understand the meaning
when I say no?  He does sometimes seem to get it, and will stop or
move off to other activities. I know he is not being ‘bad’ because he
has no malicious intent but is just into everything. He seems to
understand other things, like go get the ball, or do you want a cookie
😉  Advice?"

Good question, Dawn. Actually, a few good questions:

  • At what age do most/many (certainly not all) kids understand that when you say "no" you want them not to do something?
  • At what age do kids care that when you say "no" you want them not to do something?
     
  • At what age is it reasonable to expect kids to comply with your requests for them not to do something?
  • What are some ways that are as effective or more effective (depending on the age) to get kids to stop doing something?
     

Feel free to give your own answers to these questions, or other related ones you come up with, in the comments section.

I
think that a 13-month-old certainly understands that "no" is something
you say when you’re excited. It’s the sign that the child has gotten a
reaction from you. I’m not sure that at that age the child actually
understands that "no" means you want them to stop doing something. (If
you use pain to punish your kids, then yes, they will stop doing things
when they hear the word "no" but only because they associate that word
with pain and they want to avoid the pain, not because they actually
understand the meaning of the word "no.") In fact, I think sometimes
they take "no" as encouragement because it elicits such a funny (to
them) reaction from you.

It seems to me, based on my observation of my two kids, that
the real understanding that "no" means you want them not to do
something kicks in some time between 18 months and two years. Or so.
However, that still doesn’t mean that they’ll actually stop when you
say "no." It totally depends on the kid. My 5-year-old still sometimes seems
unable to stop when I say "no," and needs me to put my hands on his to
move them away, or walk him away from the temptation, or replace the
sharp stick with a bagel, or whatever. My 2-year-old sometimes stops,
but sometimes looks at me like, "Ha ha, Mama! I know you want me to
stop, but I am not going to!" So from my n of 2, I’ll say that understanding the meaning of "no" is necessary but not sufficient.

I
started writing this answer a few days ago, then asked Co-worker S, who
has a 5-year-old and an almost-2-year-old, what he thought. He agreed
that the ability to really understand "no" happened after 18 months but
closer to 2 years. He also agreed that understanding "no" and complying
with it are two very different things. "Sometimes it’s just not in
their best interest to stop what they’re doing," he observed. It’s
funny because it’s true.

So I’d say that "no" may be understood by 2, but not necessarily
complied with until later on. Some time between 2 and 60, I’d say.
(Although my dad still doesn’t do everything my grandmother wants him
to do, so maybe it’s even later than 60.)

Now, on to the reasonable question. I think it depends on what it is
that you want them to comply with and your general attitude about
obedience and self-discipline and discipline in general. If it’s
something really serious, like not sticking a fork in an outlet or
running into the street, you need to be more serious about enforcing
your rules.

As with the rest of life, follow-through is everything. You can say
"no" all you want, but unless you actually engage with your kids, you
aren’t teaching them anything about appropriate behavior and how to use
self-control. I know a dad who used to ignore his 5-year-old, so the
child would escalate and escalate and escalate his bad behavior as the
dad just said, "Stop!" Finally, the dad would explode in a ball of rage
and overreact to whatever it was the kid was doing and dole out severe
punishments that always left the kid crying. It could all have been
avoided if the dad had just engaged with the kid from the very
beginning and stepped in to stop things before both of them got out of
control.

If you’re reading this and wondering what I mean by engaging as a way
to stop bad behavior, click over immediately to buy Haim Ginott’s
masterpiece Between Parent and Child. It breaks down how to focus
attention in a way that makes you partners with your kids in helping
them learn to resolve situations for themselves, instead of engaging in
a control game that leaves you both worn out, angry, and hopeless.
Other books that people absolutely rave about (not surprising, since
both are based on Ginott’s work) are Faber and Mazlish’s How To Talk So
Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk
and Lawrence J. Cohen’s
Playful Parenting. I think both these books are wonderful and I learned
new things from both of them, but if you only have time for one, go
with the Ginott.

But back to Dawn’s 13-month-old. At that age "no" is tricky, because it
doesn’t really connect with them yet. Instead, you’re probably better
off telling the child what you want him to do, instead of what you want
him not to do. It’s human nature to focus on what someone says, even if
they’re trying to tell you the opposite. If someone said to you, "You
don’t look fat in those pants," it would be a compliment, but you’d
start to wonder if you usually looked fat in pants and it would
probably end up making you feel bad. In contrast, if someone said, "You
look really slim in those pants" you’d just think about how great you looked.

Toddlers (and people older than toddlers) respond the same way. Instead
of saying "no" when your child tries to stick a fork in the outlet, try
"Put the fork on the table." That gives the child something to do and
provides a distraction. Instead of "Don’t hit the dog," try "Clap your
hands together and jump up and down."

You may be thinking that you want to teach your child appropriate
behavior, and if you don’t tell them what not to do they won’t know
what’s wrong. But a toddler has no impulse control anyway, so even if
they know something’s wrong they can’t actually stop themselves from
doing it yet. It’s more developmentally appropriate (and gives them a
greater chance of success) to tell them what you want them to do and
helping them do it.

I was going to get into Hedra’s "safe, respectful, and kind" idea now,
but this post is already too long. So please do two things: 1) Go read
the safe, respectful, and kind post and be ready to comment on how it’s
going in your family when I open that topic up next week, and 2) Tell
us about when you feel your kids were really able to exercise
self-control, and what worked best to help them guide their own
behavior.

Q&A: aggressive behavior in babies and toddlers

HS writes:

"I have a  2 year 8 month old boy who is very active. He
also goes to a daycare in our neighborhood and he had been bitten twice in the
back by some other 2 year old. When I asked about it the daycare director told
me that I should not worry because that’s the way 2yr olds defends
themselves.  I really don’t like seen ugly bite marks on my
son.  Can you suggest a way in which I could tell the director to make
sure that won’t happen again?

She also told me that because my son did not say anything
they were not able to catch the accident on time.  I want to make sure
that these ladies who are watching over my kid do their job."

Huh? "That’s the way 2-year-olds defend themselves?" So that means that they just let the biting go on without attempting to stop it? Interesting logic. So they’d think it was appropriate if you punched the mother of the other kid in the face, because that’s how parents defend their kids? Somehow I don’t think so.

There are two truths about emotions in children: 1) There’s nothing wrong with having angry or frustrated or aggressive or other negative feelings. It’s a part of being human, and we should worry about kids who never feel free to express anything negative. The only problem is expressing them in inappropriate ways. 2) One of the most important jobs adults have with regards to children is helping them learn how to manage their emotions, especially the big and scary ones.

It sounds like those daycare providers are taking too much of point #1 to heart, and thinking the kids are magically going to learn to do point #2 on their own, without adult guidance. But how could they? Kids don’t learn to talk without hearing any other people talking. Doing something as complex as managing their emotions is far more difficult, so it requires even more adult guidance.

There are several components to teaching kids to manage their emotions. The first is setting boundaries so the child knows what’s acceptable and what’s not. That should start as early as a child starts to show negative behavior. Some kids are as young as 6 months when they start scratching or hitting, and right around 9 months to a year is a super-common time for that whacking in the face, stealing of the glasses, pulling hair, etc. that many of us have experienced with our kids.

Setting boundaries (especially for kids that age, but really for anyone of any age you’re setting boundaries with) doesn’t mean being mean or punitive. It just means making it abundantly clear what’s acceptable and what’s not. How you do it depensd on your particular child and what motivates him/her. For example, my older one does not respond well to verbal cues (despite the fact that he talks all the livelong day–go figure) and has always needed me to physically intervene to show him the boundaries. So when he was teeny and bit me while nursing, I’d scream (just because it hurt) and then unlatch him and put him out of reach so he couldn’t nurse anymore right then. When he was older and pulling hair, I’d tell him No but also pick him up and put him across the room so he couldn’t touch me. When he was biting other kids at age 2, I’d watch for it and before he bit I’d put my hand between his shark teeth and the other child and guide his head away and off somewhere else to distract him. My second one responds much more to verbal cues (and he’s not anywhere near as verbal himself as his brother was at this age) so I use more of the "you can do this, you cannot do that" kind of talk with him.

While you’re setting the boundaries, it’s important to talk the kid through those boundaries to help the child get that tape in their head. Have you ever heard a little kid looking at a temptation and saying something like "I not touch that" as they look longingly at that thing? That’s exactly what you want to happen, that the kid develops an internal dialogue about what they should and shouldn’t do. So when you’re working on not hitting you, you should be saying something about not hitting people but hitting a pillow instead. When you’re working on not snatching toys out of a younger sibling’s hand, you should be repeating "Find something to trade him!" to get that tape playing in his head. It’s not going to make a change overnight, but it does get the pattern established of positive self-talk and rehearsing actions before you do them.

The other two components that are very important in helping kids manage negative emotions are distraction and giving them healthy subsititutes. Distraction has to be the single most useful discipline tool ever, because it breaks the immediate pattern and stops the negative behavior. It also gives you enough time to think about what’s happening and act instead of react when you figure out what to do next. Sometimes the bad behaviorwas just a fluke, and you don’t ahve to do anything else, because the distraction took care of it.

But for things that are consistnent or show that a kid really can’t manage some emotions (and I’d definitely put biting, hitting, and pushing in that category), you need to give them a healthy subsititute. Remember, there’s nothing wrong with feeling angry, aggressive, or frustrated. You absolutely want to make sure your child experiences those emotions without feeling like they’re something to be hidden, because in order to be a healthy adult you need to be able to process and accept your own emotions. Be very clear that the problem isn’t feleing angry, it’s biting another person in anger. To that and, you can give the child something productive to do with the negative energy. We gave my older son a braided dog chew toy (a new one I bought just for him) and when he felt like biting, he bit that. Some kids carry around special pillows that they hit when they feel like hitting someone. I’ve seen some parents get their children to run around the room for 10 minutes or hop up and down to release that physical energy.

By giving your kid a substitute to help them expend negative energy, you’re setting up their ability to consciously manage their emotions. The hope is that as teens and adults they’ll be able to think, "I feel really horrible and like I want to punch someone. Let me go out and run 2 miles instead, or scrub out the bathtub, or go down into the basement and hit the punching bag, or go over to the dojo and see if anyone wil spar with me." They’ll know how to channel that energy into something neutral (if not actually helpful) instead of turning to hurting other people or themselves.

OK. HS, if you’re still with me, what I’m getting at is that this is a serious issue, and you are totally right to be concerned about the non-response from your daycare director, both for your own son’s sake and also for the biter’s sake. There are several things here that concern me:

1) Is their ratio of staff to kids so low that they just simply cannot keep on top of what’s going on with the kids?

2) Are they not sensitive enough to the kids to realize that the biter needs a little extra attention and guidance?

3) How can they not realize that allowing your son to get bitten is not acceptable and is a serious liability? You’d think they’d at least be worried about the potential lawsuit, if nothing else.

I think you need to go in and sit down with the director and express to her that this is a huge concern for your son’s safety, and that they need to think seriously about their procedures for ensuring the safety of each child. Emphasize that this is a safety issue, not just a "kids being kids" issue. Then express your concern that the staff doesn’t know how to help the kids manage their emotions and are letting situations get out of hand. You might suggest the idea of having a biting toy for the biter and helping the caregivers manage the flow of the day so things don’t escalate and get the kids so frustrated that they attack each other.

(Oh, and the part about your son not telling them anything happened? You can’t tell me that a 2 1/2-year-old gets bit hard enough to leave a mark and doesn’t yell in pain. Why was there no caregiver there to hear his cry and figure it out? It’s not your son’s responsibility to report incidents in a detailed and calm manner–he’s a toddler.)

It’s entirely possible that the director won’t have any answer for you. If that’s the case, you may have to think seriously about finding another place for your child where he won’t be in physical danger from other kids. Of course that doesn’t help the other kid who’s biting because he doesn’t know how to deal with his frustration, of any of the other kids in the center, but your primary responsiblity is to your own child.

And do NOT let the director try to sell you the idea that the problem is with the kids. The kids are just trying to fumble their way through all the feelings coursing through their little bodies. Adults have the responsibility to help the kids deal with those feelings.

Anyone have an similar experiences with daycare situations that weren’t being handled appropriately? Any words of advice?

Holiday Gauntlet 4: Stress on kids during holiday visits

The holiday season can be extremely stressful for kids. Too many parties, visits with overexcited grown-ups, and foods that they don’t usually eat.

Your job at this point is to protect your kids from things that are actually going to hurt them, and look away from the rest of it.

What that means is that you need to protect your kids’ personal space. Even if your mom loves to kiss your daughter when she sees her twice a year, you can’t let her if it scares your daughter. No one gets to tickle your child unless the child requests it. No passing the baby if the baby’s not clearly into it. There are all sorts of things you can teach your kids to "connect" with adults that don’t involve compromising their personal boundaries. My favorites are blowing kisses and giving high-fives (which are also cute and precocious-seeming). If your child is too young to do this, you can always pinch her to get her to yell, then claim all the overstimulation is making her cranky and she needs to go into a quiet room to chill out. (If you start teaching a baby the sign for "milk" from an early age, you can discreetly flash the sign and he will start fussing to eat and you can leave the room. Score!)

Let me repeat this again–You have to protect your child’s physical boundaries. If you don’t, you’re teaching your child that it’s OK for him or her to be violated in some way, because you’re there watching but allowing it to happen. Blame it on anything you want to (your kid’s coming down with a cold, your pediatrician, "this nutjob on the internet who writes an advice column"), but get your kid out of an uncomfortable situation no matter what.

For some kids, their physical boundaries also include the things they eat. I’ve been lucky in that both of mine have stomachs more like the stomachs of goats, so eating too much sugar or really rich foods doesn’t have much effect on them. That means that’s one thing I just let go of at events, and maybe hear the eating report later, or maybe not. But if you have a child with any food sensitivities, you have to be on guard. I do not envy you, because there are whole categories of people who think all food issues are made-up, and who will try to push you and your child.

I suppose one way to be proactive about dealing with jerks who try to push you on your child’s food sensitivities would be to bring an epi-pen, and at the beginning of the event get up and ask all the adults to watch you teach them how to use the epi-pen "just in case someone accidentally gives Ethan something with eggs in it" or whatever the problem food is. Seeing the actual epi-pen might make them think twice about pressing the issue. I’d love to hear other suggestions from BTDT food issue parents.

The unrealistic expectations issue is a big problem. You end up having to spend a lot of time with people who have no idea or recollection of what’s normal behavior for young kids. Tensions are high with relatives spending so much time together anyway, and then add in stresesd kids out of their normal environments, and it’s a recipe for criticism, hurt feelings, and tantrums all around.

The best suggestion I have for mitigating this is simple: Go Outside. Go outside several times a day, and walk (or run) around with your kid. Being outside (even in super-cold air) is good for them, blows off some steam, gets them out from under the vigilant eye of the older generation, gets you out from under that scrutiny, and is impossible to argue with. (Who could say anything bad about taking a kid out to get some fresh air and run around?) If you spend enough time outside your child might sleep a little better (even in the too-small pack ‘n’ play or in bed with you), and you can settle down a little, too.

My other technique is to treat any egregious statement as if it’s a joke. "I can’t believe you let her eat potato chips before dinner!" and you answer "Oh, Mom, you’re always so funny. Remember how we always used to eat so many potato chips at Grandma’s that we couldn’t eat any dinner? Good times." Or "You’re still nursing that child? She’s going to need therapy when she grows up!" and you answer "Ha! That’s a funny one, Mr. Johnson. Could you pour me another glass of wine, please? I’m drinking the red."

If all else fails, just keep repeating to yourself one of the following mantras:

"I will not become my mother."

"Mizu no kokoro. Make my mind like water, and let it all flow through me without touching me."

"These people are not my real family."

"Only 185 more minutes until we can go home."

"Eff you, you effing effers."

Happy Holidays.

Holiday Gauntlet 2: Christmas tree management

A Christmas tree and a toddler can be a bad combination. There are a bunch of different solutions that have been used successfully.

We’ve had good success by getting a teeny little tree and putting it up on a table. The toddler couldn’t reach it, but we could. Not much room for stacking gifts, but then you have a built-in reminder to stay prudent with gift-purchasing.

You could also put the tree inside a playpen, if you have one, or block it off with gates or a playard.

Other people have strung wires from walls or ceilings to anchor the tree and prevent it from toppling, or to suspend the tree upside-down. (I have to confess that I don’t really get the point of this.) This seems to work really well to keep the tree upright, but you still have the problem of kids pulling off ornaments, lights, and branches.

What do you do? And at what age did the tree cease to be a negative temptation for your child? In our house, 21 months seems to be the cut-off between total tree destruction and pointing wide-eyed.

Q&A: people telling your kids they want to take them home

Carabeth writes:

"Why
do people think that it’s cute or funny to ask little girls (with big
brown eyes) if they can take them home, or if their mom would notice if
they took her little brother away with them? And then they have the
audacity to expect that little girl to give them a polite goodbye or
even a hug? My daughter is almost three and is a bit of a thinker. I
always assure her after the fact that I would never let that
happen. I don’t think I’m being too sensitive, or too protective. I
wish I could think of a good snide comment to make in these situations,
but these people are frequently the care givers at my mother-in-laws
Care Facility that we see on a semi-occasional basis and we rely on
their goodwill. Any suggestions on how to handle these situations?"

What is wrong with people?!

There are a bunch of different ways to handle this kind of thing (and I’m sure the readers will have some suggestions I haven’t thought of), but there are two main goals behind whatever you choose to do: 1) You daughter (and son, later) needs to know that no one is going to try to take her away, and 2) the person saying it needs to know that it’s not a smart or OK thing to say. Other than that, you have to judge the person and situation and adjust for that.

I’ve never actually gotten a comment like this that’s sort of in the nebulous zone. I get comments all the time from people we know (neighbors, etc.) saying they’d like to take my younger one home for the night, but they never say it to him and we all know they’re just joking, so my standard answer to that is, "You’ll change your mind at 3 am!" and we all laugh. It would be different if they were people my kids didn’t know well or were talking to my kids instead of to me.

I’ve also been approached by strangers trying to talk to my kids in public in a harrassing way. I start with, "Please don’t talk to my child. It’s threatening." If the person is a decent human being, they apologize and back off. If they keep approaching us, I take their picture very deliberately with my cell phone and tell them I’m going to call 911 because they’re threatening to harm my child. I’ve only had to do that twice, and both times the person ran off before I could dial the 9.

The problem with your situation is that you have to be nice to these people, and they don’t mean any real harm, but it’s scaring your daughter. So I think I’d just expose the whole situation for what it is at the time. When someone makes a comment to your daughter, you could respond to your daughter, "Oh, honey, I know it scares you to think that someone might try to steal you away from home. Ms. X didn’t want to scare you. She’s a very kind person, and she’d never try to take you or your brother home. She just meant that she thinks you’re such a nice little girl. She didn’t realize you were too young for teasing like that. She won’t say it again" Then turn and smile at the person who said it to show that you’re not mad. Most halfway-intelligent people will figure out that they scared the crap out of the kid and that they shouldn’t say things like that again.

I think the good that will come of bringing it all out into the open is that your daughter learns that you take care of her, that you can fix a lot of situations just by making the assumptions explicit, and that it’s more likely that people are just inept than malevolent. The hope is that the people saying these things will also learn that they’re indavertently scaring kids, so they’ll rephrase their admiration into something less scary.

(Once your kids get to be older and more able to distinguish between real threats and idle idiocy, you can use what my mom has always said when someone wanted to take us home, which is "It would be The Ransom of Red Chief.")

Hugging strangers goodbye? No way. "She’s not a hugger," in a breezy, unconcerned voice that allows no arguing. We have friends who taught their daughter to blow kisses, and they’d use that to charm people but make sure their daughter wasn’t ever even remotely guilted into physical contact with anyone she didn’t want to touch (including over-eager grandparents). It’s never too early to reinforce your children’s rights to have their physical boundaries respected.

It’s enough to worry about actual dangers to kids without having to deal with thoughtless comments that can scare them, too. Let’s heave a sigh of exhaustion at the stupid things people do, and then go back and reread Protecting the Gift by Gavin DeBecker.

Q&A; frequency of post-partum sex

Reader K. writes:

"I’m 37 and my wife 24, married last year July, have one baby about 6 months…can we have sex daily?..is there any medical issue….if I do that..I feel weakness.. like back ache, sleepy in office, headache..but problem is I am ready for another shot.

This problem is not regular but started since last week when I took Viagra pill for overcoming my premature ejaculation problem…which is very regular since 5 months."

I can certainly sympathize, since if I had a 6-month-old and was having sex every day I’d probably feel weak and sleepy at the office, too.

Seriously, though, as far as I know there’s no restriction on frequency of sex at 6 months postpartum. Usually postpartum sex issues are with the mother, but once the mother is cleared for sex and meets the conditions most people are more or less ready to go. "The conditions," as they were told to me by a midwife I love, are that 1) the mother has to be done with the post-partum bleeding, 2) all cuts or tears must be healed, and 3) she has to feel like having sex. As you can see, meeting these three conditions could intersect with the 6-week mark everyone thinks is so magical, but the don’t necessarily have to. I am absolutely not aware of any restrictions on sex for men after the birth of a baby with regards to the reproductive organs.

(You don’t mention if your wife wants to have sex every day, but I can only assume that she’s happy with the frequency of sex you’re having. If she wasn’t, your question would be "How do I convince my wife to have sex every day?" instead of wondering if it’s medically advisable. If, by some chance, she’s not happy about having sex every day, then please negotiate for a frequency that you both enjoy.)

One explanation is that you’re just tired out from working and having a young baby. Having a baby adds another full-time (at least) job on to whatever a person is already doing. Before kids, you can work, have dinner, do errands or chores, have sex, and still go to bed at a reasonable time. Once you have a baby, you have to squeeze sex in around everything else, and you often don’t even get to start until you’re already exhausted from everything else you have to do. That makes for a big sleep deficit, and could make you sleepy at the office and headachy.

However, you say that this all started when you started taking the Viagra. I looked up side effects of Viagra, and sure enough, headache and backache are side effects, as is light-headedness (scroll all the way down toward the bottom). You’re having side effects of the Viagra.

You should call your doctor and talk to him/her about the side effects and see if there’s any other treatment for the premature ejaculation that you can try, or if it’s possibel to adjust the dose to eliminate the negative effects but maintain the beneficial ones. (Please, please tell me you started taking the Viagra under a doctor’s supervision. Recreational Viagra use is just so Footballers’ Wives. And if there’s some underlying medical cause of the premature ejaculation a doctor could help treat that instead of masking it with the little blue pill.)

If there’s nothing else that works as well for the premature ejaculation, you’re going to have to decide if the side effects of the Viagra are bad enough for you to stop taking it. I’d recommend that you make this decision with your wife, since your health (and by that I mean the headaches and backaches, but also your mood and your sexual satisfaction) affects all three of you in your family. I could tell you what I’d probably choose, but I’m not you. (I also think that men and women tend to weigh these things differently, as evidenced by the mating habits of the preying mantis, but that’s neither here nor there.)

The good news is that it sounds like all your worrysome symptoms are caused by the Viagra. I hope you and your doctor and wife can come up with a solution that lets you have sex as often as you want to without causing you physical pain.

Q&A with guest expert: replace a car seat?

Dana writes:

"I was rear-ended the other
day.  It was hard enough to give me whiplash but was still slow-speed
enough to be considered low impact.  I was alone in the car (thank the
gods!) but my year-old son’s carseat was in its usual position in the
backseat. 

The carseat’s literature was
very clear on the subject of car seats and accidents when baby is in the car seat:
replace it immediately.  But it is completely silent on the subject of
empty car seats and accidents. 

The seat was properly fastened
in the middle of the rear bench seat with the lap belt, and was tethered in
place with the tether strap as per Canadian law.  The provincial
government’s website is silent on the subject of unoccupied car seats in the
event of an accident.  Our insurance provider couldn’t give me a definitive
answer, and neither could the local police department.  (The rent-a-cop at
the police station’s front desk actually made fun of me for asking the
question!)

So what do I do?  The
insurance provider thought that given it was low-impact and the seat was not
damaged that it should be OK.  But I can’t help thinking this is sort of
like if your hard hat gets hit in a workplace accident: even if
there’s no visible damage, you replace it because it’s a safety device that’s
been in an accident."

My only advice is to go back and kick the rent-a-cop in the shins for making fun of you for being concerned about your son’s safety. Jerk.

But I went right to The Car Seat Lady, Alisa Baer, to answer your actual question. Here’s what she said:

Dana,

The
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (for the U.S.) recently
changed its recommendations regarding replacing a car seat after it has
been in a crash.  The data behind these recommendations came in large
part from a Canadian study.  Please visit
NHTSA’s website
for more information.  Given the fact that you were injured in the
crash you should replace your son’s car seat (according to the NHTSA
criteria) — regardless of the fact that it was unoccupied at the time
of the crash.  Even unoccupied seats are stressed in a crash —
obviously less than an occupied seat, though.

One
other thing I would recommend — if your son’s car seat can go
rear-facing (and your son is within the weight and height parameters
for rear-facing) it would be wise to keep him rear-facing until he
reaches the weight or height limit for his seat.  Rear-facing is about
4 times safer than forward-facing – see
www.thecarseatlady.com for more info on rear-facing vs. forward-facing.

Alisa Baer, MD

Pediatric Resident

Nationally Certified Child Passenger Safety Expert

So there it is, right from the actual expert’s fingers. I hope your insurance company will be easily persuaded to replace your son’s seat by the information in the link Alisa gave to the new NHTSA position. I hope your neck is feeling better.