Category Archives: toddlers

Sippy Cup Ettiquitte

For infants, drinking is about nutrition.   Drinking formula or breastmilk is more important than eating until around the first birthday.  After that, drinking should be driven by thirst.  Unfortunately, it is often driven by a desire for a sweet treat.  Some children also drink because they are bored or there is nothing better to do at the moment.  Sometimes a toddler or preschooler is offered a sippy cup as a distraction or as a way to get quiet.

You can encourage good drinking habits with a few simple steps.  First, encourage your child to sit down to drink.  This means the child stops playing to drink.  This also reduces mess-both spills and dripping cups on the floor.  By 15 months, most children can easily walk into the kitchen and sit down to have a drink.  Keeping a cup of water on a small stool works well.  Pick up the cup off the stool and sit down to drink.  When no longer thirsty, get up and put the cup back on the stool.

A one year old who sits down to drink will also learn to drink from an open cup more quickly.  If you doubt that toddlers can do this, peek into a daycare room that requires toddlers to sit at the tables for snack.  Each child drinks what they want before getting up to play.  There are a few spills but 3-4 ounces is an appropriate serving size and does not make a huge puddle.  A cup this size is also easy for a toddler to hold in one hand.

If you as an adult need to take a drink along on an outing then pack one for your child.  Also consider a packing a drink if your child will be playing outdoors or engaged in another activity that causes him to sweat.  Try to wait until your child should be thirsty or asks for a drink before pulling out the cup.  If he throws it down, put the cup away because he is not really thirsty.

Halloween Costumes

Most children enjoy dressing up and pretending to be someone/something else.  This is a common part of play among preschool and early elementary kids.  Halloween is a great opportunity for kids to use their imagination.  

In general, costumes for very young children should be of familiar characters, people or objects and not cover or alter the face.  By second grade, most kids understand the difference between reality and fantasy.  Watching your cousin put on a scary mask can still be frightening for some of 6 year olds.  If Ursela and the Wicked Witch of the West are characters your child dislikes, be proactive in helping your child avoid interactions with big kids that might enjoy werewolves and mummies.

Thirty years ago, almost all Halloween costumes were home made.  Consider reviving the tradition.  A paper grocery bag can be cut into a vest and decorated as a police officer, native american, cowboy, etc.  Paper plates can be cut and safety pinned to the back of a shirt as wings for a fairy, angel, insect or princess.  Parents can help add glitter to the edges.  Paper or fabric letters can be pinned to a shirt to create an athletic jersey.  Spots can be added for a cow or dog.  Stripes can be added for a tiger or bumble bee.  The school glue that advertises it is washable is an easy way to attach ribbon for stripes and they conveniently come off in the wash.

I don’t like new foods!

Some picky eaters are afraid to taste new foods.  This is often worsened by adults who insist the child try the new food.  Often, forcing a child results in a self-fulfilling prophecy of not liking the new flavor. 

Consider serving a new food but excluding your picky eater.  Let the picky eater know that she will not be asked to try this new food because she is not old enough, etc.  Tasting this new food is a privilege that the child has not earned.  If the child asks to taste, decline.  In a few days, serve the food again.  This time mention that the child might get the opportunity to try it but in the end do not allow a taste.  The third time around if your child asks for the food, allow only a tiny portion (smaller than an adult bite).  Again, this food is a privilege.  If your child does not ask for it after several opportunities, place a tiny portion (3 peas) on her plate.  Do not mention the new food.  Simply eat yours and perhaps ask someone other that your picky eater if they would like seconds.  Continue to place minuscule portions of these new foods on your picky eater’s plate being careful not to mention them.  Eventually, your child will either discretely try it or ask about it.  Your reaction is key.  Try not to care.  If eating is a way for your child to show his independance, appearing nonchalant is your best weapon.  The secret taster is trying not to loose face.  Do not mention that she tried something new.  Next time that food is served, give a larger but still small portion.  If he asks why he is being served such a small portion, gauge your reply carefully.  If she tastes it an still appears not to like it, then her avoidance is probably based on true preferences.  Each of us has foods we dislike.  However, research shows that children are more likely to accept a food if they have tasted it before.

“He won’t eat”

I regularly encounter children whose caregivers report that they “won’t eat” and I don’t mean while feeling ill.  The parents think the problem is chronic.  When I look at the child I know that this statement is not accurate because the child does not look under nourished.  In fact, some of these children are fat.  How can that be?  

1)  The child is expected to eat much more food than their body actually needs.  A toddler is not supposed to eat half as much as an adult.  One tablespoon for year of age up to a max of a half cup is a good rule of thumb for portion sizes for children.  That means a 2 year old might only eat half of a chicken tenderloin, 2 tablespoons of mashed potatoes and 2 tablespoons of veggies at a large meal.  The MyPyramid.gov website has a calculator for daily food portions for preschoolers.  (Use this one for ages 6 and up. )

2) The child drinks hundreds of calories of juice, milk or worse each day.  They fill up on what they drink and are not hungry.  Anyone who drinks 5 glasses of apple juice has consumed at least 500 calories.  Milk has at least a few more calories.  If you eliminate the juice, soda, etc and limit milk to 2 cups, the child’s appetite will increase and they will eat more.  Be ready for some tantrums though.  It is often easier to completely eliminate juice, KoolAide or soda than to moderate portions.  Then you can simply say “It is all gone.”  Some children go on strike and refuse to drink if their favorite beverage is not available.  Don’t worry.  Thirst is a powerful force.  Everyone will eventually drink water if they are thirsty enough.

3) The child and parent argue over eating and the child views eating as a struggle for power.  Even 9 month olds can get in this battle for control.  The solution is easier said than done.  Stop showing an interest in what and how much your child eats.  When there is no grappling for control, the child will eat if they are hungry.  Depending on age, this process can take days to weeks.

Parrotting dirty words

So your 1 year old unexpectedly repeats a dirty word just like she repeats other words.  What should you do?

If at all possible, do not react.  Act as though what she said is not really a word.  Then redirect her attention with a question like “Where’s your nose?”  Most children need to repeat a word several times in order to commit it to memory.  If she starts thinking about something else, the undesirable word is less likely to be remembered.

If you are reading this and thinking s***! it’s ok.  Lots of parents make the initial mistake of acknowledging when their kids say dirty words.  If your child is still learning to talk, this will be easier.  I often use a rhyming word in a phrase.  Kids mispronounce things all the time and we correct them.  It will be nothing new for your child.  For example, F***! from your child could be followed by “Duck says quack. Quack! Quack!  What does a dog say?”  Once again, the child’s last thought is about something unrelated to the dirty word.

Simontaneously, those who use dirty words need to clean up their language.  (Oops! is always socially acceptable.)  Sometimes this means someone needs to stop yelling “Shut up!” at the dog when he is barking too much.  Realistically, anything that kids hear repeatedly will probably become part of their vocabulary.  It takes a few days to mostly break the bad habit of expletives and months to completely retrain yourself.  For guests in your home, a cute money jar can help.  Label it something like Michelle’s College Fund, Each Dirty Word $1.

Please Quit Nagging

Why aren’t you ready yet?  (Because I really don’t want to go anyway so I am dragging my feet to delay the inevitable.)

Why did you hit your sister? (Because I thought she deserved it.)

Why can’t you sit still?  (Because you did not bring anything for me to play with and I am bored.)

If kids actually gave these truthful answers, they would be in trouble for mouthing off.  Instead they play it safe by ignoring the question or the old standby “I dunno.”

The actual answer to the question “Why do adults ask kids rhetorical questions” is most often because the adults want the last word.

Everyday I hear parents and grandparents ask kids ridiculous questions.  My favorite is “Do you want me to (insert punishment)?”  When I listen, sometimes I want to put mom in time-out.

If parents stopped asking rhetorical questions the amount of nagging would astronomically decrease.  Would it be easy?  Of course not!  Would it increase compliance? Definitely.  I never ask a child to do something more than once or twice.  If you haven’t complied, I help you do whatever I asked.  For example, if I ask a child to close the door and they continue playing, I help them comply by guiding their hand to the door and pushing it closed.  No punishment, just forced compliance with my simple request.  It doesn’t take many opportunities before the kids realize that when I tell them to do something, they will do it.

Temper Tantrums

In children who are not yet verbal, tantrums are commonplace.  They send a clear message to adults that the child is unhappy with the current situation.  He might want down on the floor, want the m&m’s in the checkout line, not want to give up that magazine he was destroying or just be tired.  Almost all children go through a stage of frequent tantrums.  The goal is to make tantrums only a temporary stage.

For children under 12 months, distraction often resolves the tantrum.  For older toddlers, ignoring works well.  After you start to ignore tantrums, you may notice that your child checks to see if you are watching and then revs up the tantrum to get your attention.  In other words, “if I’m a little more obnoxious, maybe they will give in.”  Shortly after this part of the tantrum, your child may attempt to get your attention by being cute or kind.  This is your cue to give some attention while remembering you still need to ignore the tantrum.

Tantrums are a lot of work.  If they never result in getting what your child wants, your child will give up and try a different strategy.  If they work occasionally, then they are worth the effort.  (Think of how many times you checked the change slot of a coke machine after finding a coin once.)  You may also find that your child stops tantruming with the adults who ignore the tantrum and continues with the adults who occasionally give in.

Ignoring tantrums in public places can be difficult.  In a store, you can take your child to the car until the tantrum is over.  The employees will happily hold your grocery cart for a few minutes.  The restroom is another way allow your child to finish in a less public area.  Regardless, if you give in while in public, your child will realize that tantrums work in public places even if they don’t work at home.

Mom, I’m Bored!

I see bored children every day.  Often, their parent has brought nothing for them to do during an expected wait.  Occasionally I see very happy children who are disappointed that it is time to finish the activity that their innovative parent started while the family was waiting.  Portable video games, books and DVD players are an obvious choice but there are lots of other options, most of which are free and require only a little attention from you.

Colors:  Work on learning colors if your child does not know them all.  If your child knows several colors, you can ask questions about colors like What color is the sky?  grass?  the car?  and a firetruck?  Kindergarteners through tweens enjoy a good game of I spy.

Animals and their sounds are a fun game for toddlers.  If it is dark or you can turn off the lights and talk about animals that are more active at night with preschoolers.  Elementary students can take turns naming animals that fit into categories such as larger than a person, ocean creatures, walks on 2 feet, eats plants, etc.  Don’t forget about different names for males, females and babies.

All ages can enjoy a good game of “What am I?” (AKA 20 Questions).  Thinking of good objects for your audience is key with this game.  A dog is just right for a beginner and a platypus is a fair challenge for an advanced player.

But he only has two teeth!

Brushing teeth is a widely acknowledged good habit for health but how young should you start?  Do you brush the teeth of a four month old?  Do you wait until your child is off the bottle?  Do you wait until your child shows an interest?

Using a traditional (small size) toothbrush in a four or six month old is difficult.  At that age, a damp washcloth works well.  The rubber “brush” that fits over your finger also works.  Of course, neither is a good choice if your child bites hard enough to hurt.  At such young ages, using whatever is convenient for the parent is fine.  By six months of age most children are skilled at eating off a spoon.  Shortly thereafter, you can teach toothbrushing etiquette–no biting, etc.

Some infants and toddlers are motivated to cooperate by the taste of tooth cleanser.  You notice I did not say “toothpaste”.   Most children under the age of 4 years do not like the flavor of adult toothpaste.  Many kids describe it as burning or hot.  For any child who is likely to swallow the tooth cleanser, fluoride-free is the safest option.  This is often labeled “training paste” in the store.  It comes in flavors like grape.  Since it is tasty, some children will eat it.  Eating fluoride toothpaste is not safe so stick with fluoride free until you can trust your child to spit.  There is also an enzyme based cleanser for infants and young toddlers that is safe to swallow.

So how do you teach good toothbrushing etiquette if you missed the window at 4-8 months?  You can still start.  If your child has 2 or more teeth at 6-12 months, I would not choose to put my fingers in his mouth.  By that time, biting is inevitable!  Stick to the little toothbrushes that look like adult toothbrushes.  If you child is starting to grab the spoon when you feed him, go ahead and buy two toothbrushes.  That way, your child can hold one while you use the other.  This greatly reduces snatching and frustration.  For children who are starting to want to brush their own teeth, bath time is perfect.  After undressing and before getting in the bath means less mess to clean up.  The time it takes to ready the tub is great for how long to brush too!

You may have noticed the wide variety of ages mentioned in this post.  The age range  considered to be normal for the first tooth is between 4 and 15 months old.  Yes, it is a huge range.  Average is 6-7 months.  Fortunately teeth have little bearing on a baby or toddler’s ability to eat food so this variability is harmless.  Go ahead and teach your child gum cleaning etiquette at six months even if she doesn’t have teeth.  It will save you lots of frustration later.

Lastly, every community’s water supply has different amounts of fluoride.  Different brands of bottled water also have different amounts of fluoride and some filters remove fluoride.  If you are unsure if you child needs fluoride supplementation, ask your pediatrician, dentist or local health department.

Slapped in the face, again

I often hold 10-12 month olds on one hip while I do something else with the other hand.  Invariably, after a few minutes, I get slapped in the face.  The child is not unhappy, in fact he usually smiles as he does it.  Why oh why do children this age hit so much and how can you stop it?

Let me start by pointing out that they often hit without realizing that they are hurting you.  They would also hit the neighbor’s dog when you finally decide to allow them to pet it after being assured that the dog is “child friendly”.  (See post on dog safety.)

The wrong way to stop this behavior is to hit your child back.  Your child does need to be taught not to hit but will never understand that you can hit him but he is not allowed to hit you.  That is way too complex for your child to follow.  First off, if you can tell it is coming, grab your child’s wrist and stop them from hitting you.  Use a firm voice and say “No!”  (“No hitting!” is really too complex for a child under the age of a year.)  You must use a firm, no-monkey-business voice to be effective.  It is impossible to smile while using this voice.  Your baby may whimper or whine to show that they did not like your serious voice.  This is okay!  You are now going to change your tone to a quiet, sweet voice and say “Gentle” or “Love” while directing your child’s hand to gently stroke your face.  Within a few tries, your child will begin to understand that you enjoy being gently loved on.  You can stop the popping and start petting!