Dear Dr. Heather,
I’m a full time single dad of a 5 1/2 year-old girl. I have a great career, and she is happy and doing very well in school. I’ve decided to move again; the 3rd place in 3 years, all within the same neighborhood. Each time has been for "upgrades". So we will have a yard to play in and not have to deal with the apartment living we are most used to here in LA. My question is, will all this moving create any problems for her, emotionally, at her age?
First of all, GO DAD! I love to hear about Dads like you who are considering psychological issues in the development of their kids. The fact that you are asking the question tells me you’re on the right track!
Now, the issue of moving: I’ve been getting this kind of question a lot lately, as lots of families move during the summer. At this age, your daughter is basically still tied to YOU, as her anchor in the world. The house is secondary, at best. What’s best for YOU is best for HER. If you are happy, she will be, too.
Your attitude about moving is also important. Approach it like an adventure, and involve her in the process as much as you can. Let her make choices about anything reasonable, like paint colors, or how to set up her room. Ask her about any down sides; what does she miss about the last house? Let her talk about it. Just listen. Maybe there’s nothing; maybe there’s something. Let her know that her feelings do matter to you, regardless. You may not change anything, based on her feelings, but she WILL know you took her seriously.
Your best guide is to observe her behavior. A little regression following a move is normal. Sleep habits might go out the window, temporarily. She may be more clingy or temperamental. Talk to her about the feelings you suspect might be underneath the behavior. But it sounds like she’s a PRO at moving, and I doubt it will be too difficult. She likely will bounce back very quickly.
But soon, her school and friends are going to become important…VERY important. And then, you will want to think twice about moving her around, especially if it affects her school placement. I would start thinking about her elementary school situation, and where you want her to be. Consider the neighborhood in terms of kids her age and other kid-friendly features like parks. Start thinking about a longer-term living situation, where she can feel settled, and try to stay, if you can. Moving when your daughter is older is bound to cause more stress for her. Good luck!
Lately I have been getting very concerned by my 3-year-old daughter’s annoying habit. She lays on the sofa and puts her hands between her legs and does this kind of “bop pushing action”. She sometimes uses objects like her blanky or teddy bear to help her bop between her legs. It doesn’t seem to change her attitude or behaviour any, but I find it annoying. Some people have told me that maybe she is developing sexually too early; and this is very scary for me, can this be true? I am very worried as this is embarrassing and I know to ignore the problem may make it go away, but I would really like to know WHY is she doing this?
Mama A in Canada
Hi Mama A,
You pose a very interesting and important question. How do we handle the sexual development of our very young children?
Young childrens’ bodies are actively developing in every way. As they develop, they learn that their bodies have different kinds of sensations. It’s a normal part of their own
self-exploration. Young children do experience immature sexual sensations, and masturbation is quite normal. It does not mean that the child is developing sexually too early.
However, it’s a difficult balance to strike, as parents. We want to send the message
that sexual feelings are healthy and normal. But we also want our children to
have a strong sense of boundaries and understanding of what is “good touching”
and what is “bad touching”. We also want them to know that there are appropriate places for self-exploration. For instance, your daughter can feel free to explore her body when she is alone in her room. But it’s not an activity for the living room, or with other kids. It’s
not too early to begin conveying those messages now. You can say, I know it
feels good when you do that. But it’s for you to do in private, in your room,
We want them to learn to feel comfortable with their bodies and the pleasurable sensations they experience. But we also want them to develop a strong psychological sense of
privacy and safety in experiencing sexual feelings. This is a good time to
start mentioning little facts about her body, and who is allowed to touch whom,
The emotional message you send about the issue is at least as important as the words you use.
If you feel uncomfortable talking about bodies and sexual feelings, perhaps practice first. You don’t need to give her a big lecture. You should simply mention little facts now and again, such as Oh, you’re wearing a bathing suit now. Who is allowed to touch you under your bathing suit? Only you. Or Mommy, Daddy or your doctor, to make sure you’re clean and healthy.
You also need to talk to your daughter’s pediatrician about it, since little girls can have irritation caused by a urinary tract infection or rash. This may cause itching and the
kind of behavior you describe. So check that out, too.
One last comment about masturbation. Some may worry that their child was sexually abused or somehow learned this behavior inappropriately. But how do you know if that’s true? If your child masturbates excessively, to the exclusion of other usually interesting activities, and can’t keep her behavior to herself privately, you might want to ask your doctor for help. (And don’t feel embarrassed asking about it; your pediatrician hears this question several times a day!)
I hope this helps!
My Shrink Husband David and I met in grad school, and we’ve been married for 15 years. Go ahead, I know the jokes are coming about how 2 head-shrinker parents raise their kids! But seriously, one of the reasons I married him is because he is such a natural with children. He has an innate sense of when to intervene, and when to let them figure it out themselves. And he’s a “guy’s guy”, which helps me a lot when I’m struggling to understand issues with our boys.
I rely on him both personally and professionally. So I thought you might like to read an occasional post from BabyShrink’s Husband. I asked him to take a “crack” at a Potty Training question:
I have a three-year-old son who will only poop in his diaper, but regularly urinates in the toilet without any problem. He is aware of his body sensations when he needs to poop, but refuses to use the toilet. He does not have a medical condition, and is usually quite compliant. What should we do?
Alex in NY
We experienced something very similar with our son. He also refused to poop in the toilet. Instead, he would regularly run to the playroom and quietly hunker down in a mogul ski jump position, eyes forward and red-faced, scrunch up his face, complete his business, breathe, and then, after a moment of bliss — Mission Accomplished! We openly discussed the potty with him between the ages of two to three, and the potty fascinated him. While he may have picked up on our enthusiasm about it, he did not verbalize what was on his mind regarding the potty. He always had an inquisitive expression when we flushed the toilet, but refused to speak to his shrink parents about his thoughts.
As psychologists, we had many analytic theories running through our minds. Was he afraid we were flushing his masterpiece, his private creation, or part of his body down the toilet? Was he worried that he himself was going to be flushed down the toilet? Were his shrink parents applying too much pressure? Did he have a dream or thought about losing things in the toilet? And so on.
So how did two highly educated psychologists handle their own son? “We” didn’t exactly handle it; instead, circumstances beyond our control happened one night when our germ and bodily-liquid phobic babysitter came to take care of our children. Our son was not wearing a diaper and started panicking about needing to put one on. Before the babysitter was able to put on the diaper, he started his business on the floor. She carried our screaming and crying son to the toilet where he undoubtedly went ape-sh*t. He was feeling out of control and proceeded to hose the babysitter with urine while finishing his business on the potty. Upon returning home after our wonderful night out, our son ran up to us and excitedly said, “I made doo-doo in the potty!” He was very proud about his new accomplishment, and no longer afraid. Needless to say, our babysitter was less-than-proud about her evening, but is now a little less liquid and germ phobic thanks to our boy. After that incident, our son has never had problems and has been successfully using the toilet.
The moral of this story? Leave the tough sh*t for the babysitter.
It is interesting though that kids often do things for other caretakers that they seem unable to do for their parents (e.g., you are amazed by your child’s model behavior at school or at someone else’s house when they can be a complete hellion at home). What I realized is that while this wasn’t the way we imagined our son would potty train, I doubt that any serious issues will arise from this experience. This is because we firmly believe that it is the "big picture" that matters. This "incident" happened in the context of months of communication, conveying that he could dictate the pace of potty training.
The most important aspect to convey regarding toilet training is patience. While this “incident” did not convey patience, it was the constant discussions over a year and a half that were fostered by our little one that were most helpful. Pushing a child too hard with this intimate activity can create power struggles between parents and children. Children can feel violated and belittled by all of the pressure placed on them by people and settings. Many boys are not fully potty trained as three-year-olds. If, however, your child is squatting and squeezing in a corner at his frat house, you can certainly start pushing him to use the potty at that point!
But by far, the vast majority of children have a developmental pull that leads them to want to potty train on their own schedule. Additionally, it is also important to contain your own anxiety; remind yourself that your child will potty train when he is ready, and when that happens he will feel good because he will know that it was his accomplishment.
(Thanks to David’s shrink brother Kevin Wittenberg, PhD for helping to edit this post!)
First, I want to thank you, my readers, for giving me such great suggestions. Tons of you submitted questions and ideas for posts, and I’m diligently responding, writing, (and plotting and scheming on site improvements!) Many of your questions centered around babies and infant development, so I thought Backpacking Dad’s question was perfect:
The last few times I’ve gone
to the gym I’ve had to turn around almost immediately and head home. My once
delightful, friendly, playful, and charming 13-month-old daughter turns into a
wailing ball of snotty tears when I try to drop her at the gym day care center
It’s made me wonder if they
did something there that she’s afraid of (although I don’t rationally believe
this, it’s the crazy worry that I have when faced with this inexplicable
I’d hate to stop going to the gym. And the child care there is highly recommended by parents I
respect, and I personally like all of the girls who work there. I also don’t want to reinforce
any "if I cry he’ll take me home" attitude she might have begun
In talking with one mom there, who is also a
pre-school teacher, she said that kids go through peaks and valleys, sometimes
very comfortable with everybody, and other times, suddenly and briefly, hating
being separated from mom and dad. Since this is the first time in a year that
my daughter has manifested any such attitude I’m not sure if it’s just a phase
or if there is a problem that I need to work through with her.
Hi Backpacking Dad,
Between about 10- 18 months, there’s a peak in
Separation Anxiety, based on your baby’s newfound independence from you. SHE can now
walk away from YOU…get around the house by herself, even lose sight of you as
she explores. As exciting as that is, it also scares the daylights out of her.
If SHE can go away from YOU…then YOU can certainly go away from HER…..and
so you do, at the gym. Did you study Ainsworth and Attachment Theory in undergrad, by chance? If
not, here’s a link to a classic psychological/developmental theorist who
addresses just this issue.
Now, you say that you trust
the daycare people at the gym, so I would assume nothing bad happened there.
It’s worthwhile to ask them, though, if there was a bossy kid around her one
day? Or perhaps she witnessed a tearful separation with another child and
parent? Anything to give you a clue. Use the daycare people as a resource; ask
them for suggestions and advice.
But the bottom line is this:
Your daughter is facing a really difficult life lesson in separation and
It’s important that you help her through it by being supportive,
but not denying that separations will occur.
She’s still not 100% sure that you
WILL RETURN when you do go away from her. And there’s no way to learn but through experience.
PHOTO: When they start walking, they make the scary realization that YOU can walk away from THEM, too.
Plus, as you say,
you don’t want to give her the message that her tears will be so powerful that
she can control important adult activities.
Having supportive daycare people,
plus an understanding Dad, will help her to learn this important life lesson
and skill in a way that will help her deal with the issue productively in the
I also think it’s important
to model for her that you value some adult time, and your own health, by
sticking to a workout schedule. You can be very understanding with her about
it: Talk with her frequently about what you see as her fears. Be reassuring.
Remind her that you will return. Tell her you know she might cry a little. But her
teacher Ms. So-and-So will be there to help her feel better while you’re exercising.
And then when you return, you’ll both be so happy!
Talk to the teacher first,
to let her know you expect a reaction from your daughter.
Plan it out in
advance. Don’t try to sneak out.
Be upfront and matter-of-fact with your
daughter about it. "I know you’ll be sad, but you’ll be fine. See you
soon!" And then leave. If you must, listen by the door, or have someone
check in on her after 5 minutes. I almost guarantee she’ll be fine after a few
minutes of tears. (She may protest an extra while at first, since her crying
DID deter you from exercising in the past, so surely she’ll try it out again.
But stick with it.)
I know it’s heartbreaking to
see your baby in such distress. I know your instinct is to rush in and make it
better for her. But she’s a toddler now…the baby rules don’t apply as much
anymore. She’s older and sturdier now, psychologically. She’s ready to plow
into this difficult life lesson. And she’s so lucky to have a caring,
thoughtful Dad like you to help her through it in a good way!
If you’re worried that
she might develop "abandonment fears" from being left at daycare, let
me give you an example of how that MIGHT happen: If you took her to a gym that she’d
never been to before, and where you had no knowledge of the quality of the
teachers, and you didn’t give her any time to "warm up" to the
situation, and you just left her there for a couple of hours, without
explaining that you were going, or that you would return, or providing any
reassurance. Just dumped her there. THAT’S what you would NOT want to do. But you’re
so far away from that!
Know that this is good for Erin, AND good for you.
After a nice discussion with
Backpacking Dad about this, he let me know that Erin started walking the following weekend! Surely, her developmental
changes were disturbing her usual acceptance of the separation at the gym. But
he and his wife kept trying, and after a few minutes of tears, his daughter
settled back into her nice gym-daycare routine. Nice going, Shawn! And check out his backpacking "dadventures" here at his blog!
I have two children; a seven-year-old boy and a five-year-old
girl. We are lucky enough to live close to three sets of their
grandparents who all want to spend time with them. The problem is that
the kids have picked favorites. They only want to spend time with the
"fun" ones (the ones that let them eat whatever they want, watch
whatever they want and go to bed whenever they want). This has resulted
in tension with the grandparents who believe in rules and boundaries. The
kids have also told my husband and me that they don’t want to live with us
anymore. I realize they’re just being kids, but they’re also hurting
feelings. How do I speak to them about this in a way that they can
Thanks for the picture! Your kids are adorable, and you can’t really blame them for responding like they do when they’re showered with gifts and given no limits. At this age, they’re just following the cookies and the Wii. Social skills are not really their strong suit, yet.
But it is important to set a standard for them in how they treat people, and family in particular. In every family, there are
differences in the way one set of relatives relates to the kids, vs. the other
set. Differing cultural traditions and values can play a role. Sometimes, one
family has tons of grandkids (and therefore less time and money to spend) and
the other side has few, so therefore more time and money. The general level of
intensity of the relationships within the family often dictate things, too. For
instance, my husband’s family is more involved in general in the lives of their
friends and family. My family, on the other hand, is more "live and let
live". Neither is better, just different. Kids have to get used to
the fact that everyone is different; and that’s OK.
Grandparents have the
inalienable right to spoil their grandkids; nothing I can say will change that.
But your children will learn over time, with your help, that you can’t "judge the
book by it’s cover". Treats and presents are great, but they’re not
The kids do have to learn
that some things in life cannot be controlled; Grandma X gives cookies and
candy, Grandma Y gives fruit and crackers. All you can do is talk to the kids
gently (but frequently) about manners, being polite with everyone, and the fact
that everyone is different. Perhaps the less-lenient grandparents have other
attributes: Maybe they can teach the kids to fish, or go camping, or how to
sew. The grandparents also have to come to terms with the fact that they will
each have different standards with the kids.
You can talk to all the
grandparents (probably separately) about your dilemma. Try to generate some
empathy for the kids, for the other set of grandparents, and for YOU in the
situation. Talk to the lenient grandparents about the bind they put you in.
"I don’t want to deny you your right to spoil the grandkids. I don’t want
to control your time with them. But when they come back home to rules and to be
with us, they’re impossible, since they’ve had so many goodies. They even told
us they don’t want to live with us anymore, or visit with the other
grandparents. Can we talk about toning it down just a little
Also, talk with the other grandparents
about your plans to address it. Show them you mean business when you insist
that the kids are nice and polite. Really play up the cool things that they CAN
do with these grandparents. Show your kids that their tantrums aren’t going to
get them anywhere; they still need to have a cordial relationship with all
Good luck and keep us
I had planned to write one more post about Weird Pregnancy Dreams, but there’s just so much going on behind the scenes here, I just had to tell you about it.
Here is a quick rundown -
**New BabyShrink website design in progress
**BabyShrink PODCASTING…what would you like to hear?
**Great new interviews to post soon
**And finally, I need your questions!
BabyShrink Site Redesign
It’s hard to believe BabyShrink was launched March 7….of
THIS YEAR. In 10 weeks, over 20,000
page views have been logged. 20,000! That’s due in no small part to my chief
booster and whip-cracking editor, Danny Evans at DadGoneMad. But lots of you
have decided to stick around, ask questions, participate in the discussion, and
read my articles. I couldn’t be happier. And so, it’s time to upgrade the site
to be cleaner, easier to navigate, and to use my radical new logo, designed by
my Grammy-nominated friend and tireless supporter, Glenn Sakamoto. All this
week I’m meeting with web designers. But I’m a shrink, not a "tekkie". I need
your advice and suggestions about making BabyShrink as useful and appealing as
BabyShrink’s Parenting Podcasts
My friend Ilima is a new mom, and since she’s ten years
younger than I am, she’s wayyy cooler. Which means she knows how to use her
iPod. And she loads it with all sorts of great programs, and listens in the
middle of the night, when she’s up nursing her baby. But she wants Parenting
Podcasts…a la BabyShrink. And since she’s a journalist, I take her advice
seriously. So I ask you, dear readers, what kinds of podcasts do you want to hear
Great New BabyShrink Interviews
Remember when I told you about the fantastic book
“Babyproofing Your Marriage”? I had the opportunity to interview Stacie
Cockrell recently; she’s one of it’s authors. I can’t wait to post the
interview, and I do highly recommend you check out the book. Just look at
the reviews on amazon.com to give you a sense of what an important (and hilarious) book this
My series on Sensory Integration was very well-received, and
Lindsey Biel and Nancy Peske have generously offered to post my complete
three-part series on their website, SensorySmarts.com. I’ll let you know when
that’s up on their site.
I also was thrilled to hear back from an Israeli researcher
who’s done studies on pregnancy and dreams. You won’t want to miss the
fascinating new findings on Weird Pregnancy Dreams. Since my Israeli Professor
is on vacation, we’ll wait on the final post in that series until I can give
you all the interesting new findings.
I Need Your Questions!
Not only do I want to hear your feedback and
suggestions about new features to integrate into the BabyShrink site upgrade, I
also want to hear your parenting questions. As they say in radio, “Now’s a great
time to get through to me.” We go on vacation in a few weeks, so get your
parenting dilemmas and questions in to me now!