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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.

Getting off the bottle

I am often asked how to get a child off the bottle.  The key is teaching  your child to drink from a cup.  Most parents assume this should be a spill-proof cup but it can be any cup you choose.  (Please do not choose one that essentially has a bottle nipple as it defeats the purpose of eliminating the bottle.)  “Sippy cups” as used widely in the US are a very modern invention.  Children learn to drink from open top cups in many parts of the world.  Initially, the cup is held by an adult and later it is held by the child.  Many daycares require children younger than 2 years to drink from an open cup while seated at a table.  This is facilitated by using a small 4 ounce cup that the child can hold with one hand.  Straw with lid cups are becoming more common.  If you choose to teach your infant or toddler to drink from a straw, please be sure the straw is flexible so that it is difficult to injure the roof of the mouth with the straw. 

Encourage your child to accept other beverages (water, juice) from a cup by 8 or 9 months old at the latest.  Typically developing children should have the skills to drink from a cup before they turn one. 

Most children are ready to transition from formula to whole milk at their first birthday.  The first time your child ever tastes milk, it should come from a cup.  The bottle is already strongly associated with formula.  When they drink their last formula, it is their last opportunity for a bottle, ever!

Is Trick-or-Treat taking candy from strangers?

Trick-or-treating is an old tradition.  (The History Channel has a good explanation of its origins.)  Past generations of children took candy from strangers on Halloween.  You have probably already tried to teach your child not to accept candy from strangers.  Halloween is a good opportunity to see how well your child understands.

If you ask four year olds what a stranger is, many will not be able to answer.  Those who do will mostly fall into two categories: a person you don’t know and a bad person.  When I ask kids I have never met before if I am a stranger, many say no.  Some justify it because they know my name.  Others justify it because I have been talking with them a few minutes.  Some assume that if I know their parents then I am not a stranger.

Candy and rides are often mentioned when teaching children about stranger safety.  There are lots of other enticements that are used to lure children.  If your child is old enough to understand, give a quiz asking if it is ok to take specific things (money, candy, stickers, toys) from people they have never met, people their parents know, etc.  Just talking about it before Halloween can give you a great opportunity to reinforce the lesson when you Trick-or-Treat.  If you are going house to house, explain how you do or don’t know specific neighbors and qualify them a strangers or not.  If you are going to a trick-or-trunk event in a parking lot, explain how you know that the adults giving out treats are safe.  If you go from store to store in a mall or booth to booth at a fair, you can ask about who strangers are and what behavior is safe.

“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.

How are Babies Born?

It is easy to teach that babies grow inside their mommy’s tummies and then they are born.  Children usually ask how the baby gets out around age four or five.  They may ask sooner if they are the curious type or their mom is pregnant.  A surprising number of children think birth is through the belly button.  After all, it is right in the middle of the belly!

If indicated, I first explain that the belly button is how the baby gets fed before it is born.  This is an oversimplification, but a useful one nonetheless.  I then state “the baby comes out a little tunnel called a vagina.”  Parents who rely on answers like “the doctor takes it out” are avoiding the question and will have to give a more clear answer later on anyway.

To explain a cesarean, I say ” if the tunnel is too small or won’t work, then the mommy has surgery to take the baby out.” I never use the word “cut”  because it has such a negative connotation.  A child whose mother is pregnant is going to be stressed out already.  “Cutting” hurts and will only increase the stress level of  the older sibling.  It can also cause the older sibling to resent the new baby because it caused their mommy to be hurt.

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.

“What’s a cemetery?”

I had been thinking about a post on how preschoolers view death when the mom of a 4 years old asked for tips on discussing the cemetery near their home.  The definition of a cemetery is pretty easy.  It is a place to put people or things that we care about after they die.  Things that are not important go in the trash.  Things that are important are placed in a cemetery.  A tombstone is a marker so everyone remembers exactly where something important was placed.  Dead leaves go in the trash or compost because they are not important.  People and pets go in the cemetery.

Caring for fresh cut flowers is a good way to explain death.  The child should be asked to assist in the care of the flowers.  (Ideally, the flowers would live about 3 days.)  They are talked about as pretty and enjoyable.  The child is complimented on her ability to care for them.  The flowers get clean water and a vase but eventually they die despite everyone’s best efforts.   The death of the flowers is discussed.  Dead flowers can not be made alive again because death can not be “fixed”.  For the aforementioned 4 year old, the dead flowers might be appropriately placed just inside the cemetery gate.

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!