The Washington Post
To protect daughter’s pearls, stop fighting her about brushing
Parenting coach and columnist Meghan Leahy answered questions in a recent online chat. Here is an edited excerpt.
Q: One of my 2-year-old girls (twins) refuses to brush her teeth. We’ve tried multiple brush types, “You brush Mommy’s teeth, and she’ll brush yours,” modeling behavior, praise and more, and little seems to work. I’m concerned about her oral health, and it’s making bedtime a bit of a nightmare. Any tips from you or other readers?
A: Give this a rest for a bit. I know, you are afraid her teeth will rot, but at this point, you are just fighting and fighting and fighting, and it isn’t working. Adopt an attitude of “I love brushing my teeth” and happily brush away (your own teeth). Sing songs and really enjoy it. Let her watch this joy and say nothing about her brushing her teeth. If she wants to, you just say, “Awesome, let’s do it.” No fanfare. Be cool. We are relying on the 2-year-old to want to be like you. That’s what 2-year-olds are like. Be confident she will get there.
Q: My soon-to-be 5-year-old has a bad habit that has started in the past few months. He’s constantly putting the collar of his shirt in his mouth and chewing on it and sucking it. He has never been a thumb sucker and gave up pacifiers a long time ago. I’m worried about his teeth, as well as all the shirts that are getting stretched out and ruined! How can I stop this behavior?
A: Chewing is often a sign of a child trying to relieve stress. It is common and usually unconscious. There are bite necklaces, etc., but I would ask this: Is your child stressed? What could be the source of the stress? If we can lessen the stress, we can slow the chewing.
Q: My 21/2-year-old daughter has recently fallen into a serious mommy phase. So much so that she refuses to let me (her father) help her with anything. I used to do her bedtime routine every night, but lately she refuses to even let me get her a drink of water. She constantly screams, “No, Mommy can do it for me.” Should we indulge this for a little while hoping it will pass, or should we be more forceful about ending it? Several meltdowns have ensued when I tried to do her bedtime routine. Having my wife do everything for her while we also have an 11month-old to deal with is obviously not ideal. I also wonder if this is a delayed reaction to my daughter recently starting nursery school. It’s only two days a week for a couple of hours, but she was never in day care before, as she is watched by my mother-in-law.
A: This is normal, but I know that doesn’t make you feel better. And I agree that stress from starting school is contributing to the neediness and clinginess. None of this is conscious on her part. It is not personal toward you. Promise. So, the answer to this is both a bit of indulgence and a bit of forcing. I would choose a night where Mom leaves the house for bedtime and you guys begin to find a rhythm. I am guessing Mom’s presence keeps the feelings amped. You have to keep at it and chug along. She may cry for Mom, but just ride the feelings with lots of cuddles and waiting. Tell her: “I know. It’s hard.” Don’t try this every night. Step up with the 11month-old in whatever way possible and shift some special time to that 21/2-year-old on a weekend. See if you can’t have some daddy-daughter time away from the bedtime routine to build up a connection and a feeling of safety. In any case, as long as you stay invested, this will pass.
Q: My sister (who was a single mom) passed away recently and left behind a 20-month-old daughter, “Kate.” I am her guardian, and I have no other children. I’m wondering how I can help Kate deal with her grief (is that what she’s feeling?). She will go up to pictures in my house that my sister is in and cry and say, “Mommaaaaa,” and she won’t let me comfort her. Should I take down the photos and help her avoid the pain? My instinct says no, but I should note that she is mostly fine (though a bit subdued) when she isn’t reminded of her mom. How can I help this poor baby? I can only imagine the confusion and fear she’s experiencing.
A: I am so sorry. Yeah, keep up the pictures. As torturous as this is, we want Kate to cry about what she has lost. This is how humans adapt to change, even change as awful as this. I want you to get support, stat. Get a good parent coach or therapist who understands attachment theory (Pamela Whyte is so good), and if you cannot afford that, go to the Neufeld Institute and self-study the Art and Science of Transplanting Children course. There are people who will help you. Please get support.
Q: My 4-year-old is refusing to go to preschool. He went for a month with no problems. He went part time, three days a week. I am confident that nothing happened, but he tells me he misses me. That’s why he doesn’t want to go. I am home still with his 16-month-old brother, so I haven’t forced him. I thought I would give preschool a rest and try again in a few months, but the insecure part of me fears I will be forcing my fourth-grader to school if I don’t force him to go now. But I want school to be fun, not a punishment. He otherwise is okay leaving me for short times to go to a friend’s house, and he does okay with babysitters. But in general we spend a lot of time together, even co-sleeping! He is a wonderful, well-behaved boy, and I get great reports on his behavior. Should I force preschool, or is he just slow to develop independence?
A: There is no real need for your child to be in preschool. Look at this like a baby bird. The baby bird gets stronger, eats, sleeps, stretches its wings, flaps and continues getting stronger. If we push the baby out of the nest, though, it won’t fly. It will flounder and fall. But when the baby is ready, it will fly off confidently. This is how nature works. We don’t look at the baby bird and think, “If we don’t push him out, will he ever fly?” No, we wait. We can be confident with our kids this way, too. Listen to your intuition. Q: My wife and I are meticulous about showering. We have always encouraged our daughters to take a shower every other day at least. However, our 101/2-year-old seems to forget. We always have to push her and remind her to take showers. We have experimented with not reminding her, and this led to three days without a shower (followed by us expressing our frustrated bewilderment to her). On the one hand, we think she should be able to do this on her own, yet we don’t want our daughter going to school unwashed and with greasy hair. What do you think?
A: I think you are controlling a young woman’s body that is not yours to control. We all want our kids to not stink, but you have got to lay off here. You will cause more problems by controlling her than you will by letting her hair be greasy.