Category Archives: What is wrong with people?

A Case of the Mondays

Taxes (and problems getting into the right websites to do them), and all this bizarre rain is making me punchy.

Maggie writes:

"Now that you’re WOH maybe you’ll have some perspective on what I should do. My new coworker has decided that I’m her confidant, and she’s telling me some details of her life that I really just don’t want to know. Also, she’s been pretty deliberate in hiding this stuff from management, and I have no idea why, but it makes me feel really uncomfortable, like there’s way more stuff she’s hiding.

I don’t want to be involved in any of this, but I also feel some duty to tell my boss that she may be a chronic liar. Help."

a) This sucks. B) I’m late for work, so I’m just going to open it up to the readers. When I get home tonight I’ll put what I think, which is probably what everyone else will say.

Also, I’m totally curious about these details of her life. Bad me.

Must go put on my flair and leave for work. Ciao.

Update: Here I am again. I totally agree that the only real thing to do is try not to talk about anything with this woman. Just try to be pleasant, but as busy as you can be. If her lies seem to be directly related to work (like she embezzled money or accepted large gifts from clients, etc.) then you should give your boss a heads-up. But if it’s just general character issues, she’ll shoot herself in the foot eventually. You should stay as far away from all this as you can. Triangulation is very bad, and if you triangulate yourself into the situation by going to your boss you will not come out unscathed.

Q&A: concerns with daycare caregiver

Annie writes:

"My son is 16 months and we have
been pretty happy with the day care but recently we’ve noticed that one
of his providers seems very attached.  She is constantly raving and
talking about him during drop off and pick up and on my lunch break when I
visit for about 30 min.  She does this in front of other parents
too.  Recently when I was asking my son for a hug good bye he had been
standing next to her and gave her a hug- she immediately said “I love
your hugs, go give your ‘birth Mommy’ a hug.”  This
really upset me.  Lately I feel she has been monopolizing my time with him
during my visits- hugging him, dancing with him and reading to him while I’m
there visiting.  This is my time with my son and I’m worried that
she is developing some unhealthy obsession.  I am happy that my son is “loved”
and well thought of at day care but is this too much?"

That would freak me right out.

She seriously called you his "birth Mommy?"

It seems clear to me that you need to talk to the director of the center about this. Mention that you think it’s a little strange that the caregiver seems to take such ownership of your child, and calls you his "birth Mommy." I’d also mention that she doesn’t seem to want to allow you to have time alone with him when you visit.

In all likelihood, she’s just taken with your son because he’s so sweet and above-average. But it’s still not appropriate behavior, and the director of the center should know about it and have a chance to respond.

Has anyone else dealt with anything like this? I’ve had friends who felt like their babysitters were getting extremely close to their kids, but it seems different in a daycare center situation. As if part of what you choose when you choose a center is knowing that there’s some distance between the caregivers and the kids, that they’re more like teachers than relatives (which is what I think babysitters can become).


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.

Q&A: altercations between toddlers

I got two somewhat similar questions about toddlers (17-20 months) fighting. The first was from Kristin, who writes:

"Our question relates to the effects of physical aggression at play group. We have started to take our 19 month daughter to a playgroup that is apparently run according to Steiner principles. One of the shared, central rules is never saying "no" to a child and never directly correcting what I often consider to be inappropriate behaviour. Most of the time this approach doesn’t worry me, even though I don’t agree with it, but my daughter is now being hurt by other children. For three weeks in a row she has been pushed over, punched and bitten by two older children in four separate incidents. When this has happened I’ve asked the children to stop hurting Boo but was given a very clear message by the parents that it is not my place to do so. However,the only intervention from the mothers has been a hug for the perpetrator – no apologies and no attempt to "make up". We’re really uncomfortable with this but we’re torn about leaving because there are some lovely kids,  Boo does seem to have a good time in many ways and we feel it’s important that she is exposed to different situations with other people (she’s also going to another playgroup where these situations just don’t occur).  Our concerns are two-fold: will my daughter end up believing that aggression is okay, or that it goes unpunished?; will the aggression have a lasting impact on her, undermining her security and confidence? This second outcome is particularly worrying as Boo has started to bring up the aggression seemingly out of the blue: "Jilly push. Boo bump. Sad".  Are we being over-protective?"

So, yeah. Short answer: No. You’re not being over-protective. Long answer will follow the next question. B writes:

"My 17-month-old daughter is in an all-day daycare program that’s
affiliated with a university and generally of high quality. There are
ten one-year-olds in her classroom and usually three teachers. She’s
been at the receiving end of 2 biting incidents and maybe one or
collisions that resulted in a bleeding lip. Overall, she’s very good at
avoiding physical confrontations and knows which kids seem most
dangerous to her–an excellent social skill to have, in my opinion.
Thus far, she’s not been aggressing against other kids.

I know that biting is to be expected in this age group and think that
the teaching staff respond appropriately. But I also know that one of
the biters has been engaging in this behavior for 2-3 months now.
Worse, I’ve seen the notorious biter choke other kids by coming up from
behind, putting them in a headlock and yanking their hair when teachers
seek to break up the choke. Several things worry me about this:
a) it looks like a well-practiced move and rather more, shall we say, "advanced" than I would expect from a one-year-old;
b) the choking incidents are not reported to the parents of either
victim or assailant, yet clearly taken seriously by the staff, who
coming rushing to the scene to free the choking victim;
c) the choking behavior, along with the biting, has been going on for
what seems to me an awfully long time, i.e. 2-3 months; but
d) since the center doesn’t keep statistics on these incidents, I have
no idea about the frequency of either the bites nor the chokes–my kid,
after all, can’t tell me.

Now here are my questions: Do you think that the choking is
age-appropriate? Do you think that any aggressive behavior that goes on
for 2-3 months or more is usefully chalked up to developmentally normal
nuisances? Or would you say that the problem is grave enough for the
teachers to either question the parenting that goes on at home or call
in expert help or both? Further, do you think that a childcare center
should document choking incidents to the parents even if they don’t
leave marks the way bites do? And does it strike you as a reasonable
request to say that a daycare center should keep stats on the frequency
of biting incidents and similar aggressive encounters in the
classroom?  (After all, every poopy diaper gets recorded and every arts
activity photographically documented.)"

This is all just a different version of the question we talked about last week about how to help a 1 1/2-year-old with tantrums.  The bottom line is that tantrums and aggression (hitting, biting, scratching, even choking) are normal for lots of kids. (And 2-3 months is not at all a long time for this to be going on.) They aren’t doing those things because they’re bad kids. They’re doing it because they don’t know how to communicate what they want, and because they don’t know how to process their feelings or deal with the frustration of being so little and wanting to be big, or because they can’t deal with other kids doing things they don’t like.

It is the job of the adults around them to teach them how to deal with their frustration. This can be a tough job, because the toddlers are taking out their frustration on you sometimes, and it’s hard not to just want to tape their arms to their bodies and their mouths shut with duct tape. But, as always, you have to keep your eyes on the long-term goal of teaching them to be civilized people who can communicate in better ways and manage their emotions in productive ways.

That’s what’s so disturbing about both situations. In Kristin’s situation, it just seems counterproductive and ridiculous for the adults just to observe what the toddlers are doing without helping them. At the very least they should be protecting the kids who get hurt from the kids who are hurting, and reinforcing to the hurters that that’s not acceptable behavior. At that age, toddlers absolutely cannot work it out on their own. Occasionally they may be able to navigate a situation in which two kids want the same toy, for example, but it’s certainly not something adults can expect to happen all the time. They need firm rules and guidance in how to interact with each other. They need help from the adults around them.

I can’t speak to Steiner principles (I know the basics of Waldorf method, but not all the ins and outs of Steiner stuff), but it just seems strange to me that the parents of kids this young are deliberately holding back from teaching their kids necessary life lessons. If there’s no room to change the way the adults manage kids’ physical aggression, then I think I’d just leave the playgroup so my kid didn’t get hurt anymore. You absolutely do not want to teach your daughter that it’s acceptable for her to be hurt repeatedly.

In B’s situation, the adult caregivers are seriously dropping the ball. They need to be protecting the kids. All the kids. The kids who are the victims of the biting and choking, and the kids who are doing the biting and choking. It isn’t like it’s coming out of the blue. They know who the offenders and victims are, so they should be more proactive about stopping it before it happens. Yes, it sucks to have to be on top of a kid constantly to prevent him from hurting someone else, but what’s the alternative? Kids who have no other way to manage their frustration and aren’t learning appropriate boundaries, and kids who get hurt all the time (and don’t learn appropriate boundaries).

It sounds like the management of the center is not qualified to deal with this sort of problem, because there’s no clear policy for the caregivers to manage the kids to stop the hurting, and because there’s no clear policy about reporting incidents to the parents. In this situation I’d talk to the other parents in the room and get together as a group to talk to the management and caregivers about what you want done. But it’s not acceptable, and it’s a problem with the adults, not the kids, who are just moving through this developmental stage the way kids do.

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

Carabeth writes:

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: getting grandparents to visit

Josie writes:

"My husband and I live in the South and his parents live in
New England.  We have a three month old daughter; she is the only grandchild on both sides of the family. 
I was lucky enough to have a great relationship
with my grandmothers and I think the grandparent/grandchild
relationship is unique and important.   My in-laws don’t seem to agree. 
My husband and I both work and have limited vacation, so
going to visit his parents is difficult, but we plan to visit them at
their house about once a year. My in-laws are retired.  My husband and I have said to them several
times how important we think this relationship is, our door is always
open, and even suggested specific dates to visit, but they still won’t
visit. They came down for a few days after she was
born, but they haven’t been back and only plan to come back because
we’ve set her Christening date (she’ll be almost six months old then). They have enough money to travel, so that is not the issue. Do you have any suggestions for encouraging them to visit? I realize I may be the only person in the world asking for advice on getting her mother-in-law to visit! And
honestly, when they visit, they can drive me nuts, but I really think
developing a relationship with our daughter is important.  I do realize it might not matter as much right now
because she is so young, but I want to encourage a great
grandparent/grandchild relationship for the long term."

Unfortunately, you can’t force people to want to visit their grandchildren. And as baffling as it may seem to us, some people just don’t feel the need to see their grandchildren very often at all. This doesn’t mean that they aren’t excited about the baby, and that they’re not showing photos of her to everyone they know, and bragging about how great she is. It just means that for whatever reason they don’t want to visit.

I could speculate ad nauseum about why they might not want to come. They could be afraid of babies and feel like they’ll break her. They could be afraid she’ll give them colds. They could have insecurities and secrets they haven’t resolved that make them feel they don’t deserve to be around her. They may be saving their frequent flier miles to go to Hawai’i. They could be afraid of air travel. They could be too self-involved (or, conversely, too insecure) to realize how much you want them to come.

The mostly likely explanation, IMO, is that they don’t really know how to relate to little babies. I don’t think it’s at all uncommon for people (even parents, sometimes) to not enjoy babies and only start relating well to kids when they’re old enough to carry on a decent conversation.

I have two suggestions. The first is to make sure you foster your daughter’s relationship with your own parents. If your in-laws never end up coming around about your daughter, at least she’ll have a wonderful, close relationship with one set of grandparents.

The second suggestion is to act as if your in-laws are just as much in love with your daughter as you are. Send tons of photos, call to relate what she’s doing, and continue to invite them and express sincere regret when they don’t come. The worst case scenario is that they never make any more contact, but you know you did everything you possibly could to encourage a relationship between your daughter and them. The best case scenario is that they do decide to visit more often to see her and really get to know her. You can’t lose by setting aside your disappointment and continuing to try.

Good luck. This situation sounds painful, because it’s easy to take it as a rejection of your daughter. Try to keep in mind that whatever is making them stay away is all about them, and not about your beautiful daughter.

Q&A: forcing your child’s handedness

Sorry for the erractic posting of late. I was on vacation, if the definition of "vacation" is schlepping the kids and a bunch of crap by myself to Minnesota to run around like crazy people on an over-packed schedule. We did go to an apple orchard, though. On with the advice.

Emily writes:

"Our son is 10 months old. Last week while the little guy was eating dinner, my husband observed him using his left hand and pretty much declared that he needs to be right-handed and that we (I) should be steering him that way. I should point out that my husband grew up in a culture where being left-handed is NOT OKAY, and kids are taught to be right-handed (genetics be damned). I did tell my husband that a) I see the little guy using both hands pretty equally most of the time; b) it’s likely rather early for his handedness to kick in yet; and c) only about 10-15% of people are left-handed, so he’s probably right-handed anyway, so just be patient. Not to mention the fact that if he is in fact left-handed, his brain is wired differently, and forcing him to switch is going to confuse him big-time. I feel like all of this is rather lost on my husband, who can’t/won’t get past the idea that left-handed activities = devil’s work. What to do?"

Yikes! There are still places that take the etymology of the word sinister literally?

In a nutshell, you’re right. It’s way too early to tell how he’s going to end up. As late as the age of 2 years old we still thought my older son was going to be a leftie, but now at 4.5 he writes and does most things with his right hand. The internet research I’ve done on this topic seems to give 3-4 years old as the age by which kids show definite hand preferences, although some sources say it may not show up until as late as 7. (Some articles say that if a child isn’t showing a definite hand preference by 4, s/he may have delayed physical skills, which could work themselves out or may be a reason to do some occupational therapy. So if your kid is 4 and not showing a hand preference, bring it up with your doctor, but it may not be anything to worry about.)

Forcing kids to go against their natural instincts seems really cruel to me. I’m not sure how you could force a kid to use the opposite hand without being punitive anyway, so it all just seems rather Dickensian, or like the purview of the stereotypical knuckle-wrapping nun. Or maybe you’re supposed to use treats to train him, like you would a dog or a sea lion.

I also don’t think that forcing a kid to use the right hand while you’re watching is going to reduce or eliminate the brain’s natural inclination toward using the left hand. Left-handed kids show more of a mixed handedness than right-handers do in general, so a left-handed kid may easily be able to do plenty of things with the right hand without much effort anyway. You’ll think you’ve trained the kid to use the right hand, but it’s not that big a deal so s/he’ll use the left hand for other things. (My uncle was a leftie as a kid, and his teachers forced him to use his right hand at school. By the time my grandmother found out about it and went to the school to put a stop to that, he was using his right hand to write, but his left to do almost everything else he did. Eventually he became virtually ambidextrous, which was not at all what his teachers intended. It was great for his career as an eye surgeon, though.)

I guess that could be the (tongue-in-cheek) ultimate solution to your problem if your son does turn out to be a leftie in 3 years. You could ask your son to use his right hand only when he’s with your husband, who won’t have to know that it’s just an act for his benefit.

Seriously, though, your son probably won’t be left-handed. In the meantime, maybe you can use this list of Famous Left-Handed People (Julia Roberts! Oscar de la Hoya! Bil Clinton! Lord Baden-Powell!) to help bring your husband around to the 21st Century just in case your son or a future child is a leftie.

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

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.