To pro­tect daugh­ter’s pearls, stop fight­ing her about brush­ing

The Washington Post - - LOCAL LIVING - lo­cal­liv­ing@wash­ Also at wash­ing­ Read the rest of this tran­script and sub­mit ques­tions to the next chat, Nov. 22 at 11 a.m., at live.wash­ing­

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.


Play­ing it cool can help coax a 2-year-old into brush­ing her teeth.

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