Lurking Dangers in the Home

About to bring home your newborn? Make sure the air is free from excess dust and pollutants than can cause serious damage to an infant’s lungs. Your baby’s starting to walk? Make certain the stairs are safely gated, and there are no shaky pieces of furniture that might topple over. Have a curious preschooler living under your roof? You better secure all things sharp, hot and toxic.

As your children go through the various stages of their development, the risk that they might encounter a household hazard gets higher. And yet, your home should be the safest place in the world for your children. To make it so, you will need to exert some effort to make it child proof.

The following are some of the common causes of accidents in the home, and ways parents can help protect their kids from them:

Poison Risks
Children are curious by nature. They grab anything that catches their eye, opening boxes and bottles just to discover what’s inside. In addition, little ones learn by “mouthing” everything – they don’t think twice about putting whatever they touch right into their mouth. Therefore, in order to protect your children from poisonous chemicals in the house, make sure these chemicals are out of reach, preferably in locked cupboards. Although you may not think you have chemicals in your home, chances are that you have plenty – including those in your everyday cleaning supplies such as bleaches, detergents, soaps, alcohol, medicines and insecticides. Many households also have cans of paints, home-repair supplies (paints, oils, varnishes, abrasives, adhesives (glues) and other extremely toxic substances.

Electrocution Risks
When babies are already crawling and toddlers are already walking, low outlets can be a cause of an electrocution accident. If moving the outlet is inadvisable, install outlet covers and plates to prevent electrocution. Make sure too that you set your child’s play areas way away from outlets.

Outlets are not the only electrocution risk in the house. Studies show that electrical cords of appliances can be an accident risk if they are kept uncoiled and within reach of children. Many people leave cords plugged into the wall but not plugged into the appliance or electronic device they are meant to charge. Curious little hands can grab a dangling cord and stick it into the mouth “to see what happens.” Make sure your cords are neatly tied and kept safely away from kids. If you can put protective covers on electrical cords as well, better. When cords are not in use, remove them from the outlet.

Suffocation and Strangulation Risks
Many new parents don’t realize, that even simple materials can pose suffocation and/or strangulation risk for their children. Stuffed toys, beddings and blankets, for example, can suffocate a baby in a crib if they’re not set neatly and properly. Plastic bags that accidentally make their way to a baby’s mattress can also suffocate an infant. Remember, newborns are not yet capable of removing hazardous materials that come near them; it’s up to parents to make sure they’re safe.

Phone cords, strings from toys, and bed sheets are all also strangulation risks. Now is the time to invest in cordless phones! Similarly, always make sure that bed sheet fits snugly around the mattress, with no extra cloth hanging about. Once your child is mobile, keep plastic bags stored in high cupboards rather than the lower, more accessible locations of your kitchen cabinets and storage areas.

Falls and Tumbles Risks
Once your baby starts crawling or walking, he or she can go anywhere! You’ll want to make sure your home is safe for an exploring child. Put gates at the top and bottom of stairways until your child can safely negotiate stairs. If a room has fragile or dangerous items in it (i.e. a computer desk with lots of wires dangling beneath), keep that door shut (or better yet, locked). Get down on your hands and knees and look at each room from that perspective – what can get knocked over? What can the child trip on or smash his head into? You might want to store sharp-edged end tables for a year or two – bring them back when the child has better control over his or her movements.

Slipping Risks
Check your floors; are they slipping risks? Don’t use slippery wax for cleaning your floors when you know you have a child around. For places that tend to get wet, such as bath areas, or areas near the faucets, set rubber guards on the floor.

Cutting Risks
Keep sharp objects out of the reach of children. Scissors, knives and other sharp items can accidentally poke an eye or do other serious harm when in the hands of an over exuberant toddler or reckless child. Preschoolers are notorious for doing “hairdressing” experiments – cutting their own or another child’s hair when parents aren’t looking. The resultant bad hairdo is the least of the potential dangers of this activity, as the eye-hand coordination of small children often provides inadequate control over unwieldy scissors – accidents can happen. Therefore, keep scissors in locked cabinets if possible.

Err on the Side of Caution
Many parents are inclined to believe that their child is too smart to get into trouble with household items. The truth is that accidents can happen regardless of how smart someone is! Keeping safety considerations in mind can only help.

Child Wakes Baby

Picture this scene: You’ve just finished spending 45 minutes of gentle rocking and singing to put your baby to sleep. But the effort is well worth it. Finally, you can get some well-deserved rest. You may even be able to catch up on your reading. Except… your thoughts are suddenly interrupted by a loud and demanding cry on the baby monitor. Your older child has just woken the baby up! Beyond frustrated, you get up, drag your feet to the nursery, and start the bedtime ritual all over again.

Why does this keep happening? Why can’t your older child just let the baby sleep? Consider the following:

Your Child is Bored
Sometimes, your child disturbs your sleeping baby out of simple boredom. With nothing interesting to do, kids look for diversions (the baby is an excellent distraction!) and even company. They may even want to play with their sibling, but don’t have the patience to wait until their brother or sister is awake. If this is the case, the best thing for a parent to do is find ways to engage their child while the baby is sleeping.

There are many individual games – available in toy stores and online – designed to challenge a child’s intellectual and motor development. Have these games or activities handy; they can be used to entertain bored children so that they don’t become disruptive while you are busy trying to settle the baby. Sometimes, you may be able to arrange play dates to time with your infant’s regular sleeping schedule. If you’re fortunate, there may be another adult around who can spend time with your child while you are occupied.

Your Child Doesn’t Understand Why the Baby Must Sleep
It’s tempting to reprimand or punish a child for waking up the baby, especially when he or she ends up creating so more work for the parent. But it’s important for parents to remember that the younger a child is, the less likely he or she understands why the baby’s sleep is so important. Try to explain to your child what sleep does, in a manner appropriate to his or her age. For example, parents can share with a toddler how babies become healthier when they sleep because their tiny cells grow and become stronger. If you can inject your explanation with a lot of visual imagery (you can even draw a cell growing bigger and bigger), your child will likely develop a healthy respect for sleep. Who knows, your little talk might make it easier for you to put them to bed as well!

Your Child is Acting Out
A new baby can be threatening; your child may be feeling jealousy and resentment against the infant and, out of that anger, WANTS to disturb the baby’s peace. Perhaps you’ve been accidentally giving the youngster too much negative attention which can lead to more misbehavior. In this case, carefully reduce the amount of negative feedback you are giving him (like telling him “no” or “don’t do that” or “you’ll be punished if you continue to do that,” etc.). Instead, use the CLeaR Method of positive guidance, filling your conversation with positive comments, positive labels and even positive rewards (see Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe for more information about the Clear Method). Use the CLeaR Method to specifically reinforce your child’s patience at letting the baby sleep – give PLENTY of positive attention whenever your child manages to walk by the sleeping infant without waking him.

Keep in mind, too, that your child may be seeking your attention simply because he feels a little lost in all the fuss over the new family member. Indeed, you may be too tired to give him as much time and attention as you did before the baby was born and the mischievous child is just trying to reclaim his place in your heart (albeit the wrong way). He or she may feel that the only time you pay attention is when the baby is awake, which is why the baby must be awake all the time. If you think that this could be the problem, redouble your efforts to talk to this youngster during the day (just give him a little more eye contact and a little more verbal contact) and try to do something to make him feel special at least once a day (i.e. make chocolate milk “just for him” or play a short game with him or draw a funny picture for him or sit down and read him a story in the middle of the day, etc.) Keep in mind that if your new baby has made you feel more stressed than usual, your child may be reacting to your increased stress level with his own brand of misbehavior. Perhaps you need more household help,more time out of the house or something else in order to put YOU in a better mood. This might indirectly help your child stop seeking negative attention in the form of waking the baby.

You Have Not Yet Established Your Parental Authority
It is possible that the one who wakes up the baby is really old enough to know better. No matter how many times you tell him to let the baby sleep, he ignores you. He may even think it’s funny to defy his parents and get a reaction from the baby. In this case, it is possible that you have not yet established your authority. Review the 2X-Rule (see Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice) – a quiet, respectful, firm method of discipline that helps reduce misbehavior. When the child wakes the baby, he receives an appropriate  negative consequence. You have to be consistent with this, making sure that the child receives the consequence over and over again. However, if after 3 or 4 consequences he is not improving, then continue with the general structure of discipline, replacing your ineffective punishment with a different one that might be more effective. Use each consequence 3 or 4 times and monitor your results. You will eventually find the punishment that motivates this youngster to let his new sibling sleep! When using the 2X-Rule, make sure that you are careful to maintain a high ratio of positive attention at the same time (use the 80-20 Rule in order to ensure the effectiveness of discipline).

Your Child May Have A Defiant Nature
It could be that there’s nothing more that you can do behaviorally – your child is simply unresponsive to normal interventions. If this is the case, consider Bach Flower Therapy. The Bach remedy Holly for jealousy can be helpful along with Vine (for being strong-willed and doing what he wants to do no matter what), Chestnut Bud (for being unresponsive to discipline and guidance and Walnut (for adjusting to changes in the home). Using the remedies for a few weeks or a few months can help ease the child out of his stuck and unhappy place to a more cooperative, happier one! Put all the remedies in one mixing bottle filled with water – 2 drops of each. Add a bit of brandy (1/2  a teaspoon to prevent the growth of bacteria) and give your child 4 drops in a bit of liquid (milk, chocolate milk, juice, soup, water, soda etc.) 4 times a day with or without food. You can find more information about the Bach Flower Remedies online and throughout this site.

Seek Professional Guidance
If nothing seems to work and the child is still waking a sibling, consider consulting a mental health professional who can take a closer look at what is going on and help design a uniquely tailored intervention.

The Importance of Teddy Bears

Why do kids love Teddy Bears? For the same reason that adults do! Although stuffed toys may seem “silly” or “unnecessary” to the untrained eye, they can provide many benefits.

The Human Need for Softness
The softness of a stuffed animal can provide not just emotional comfort, but actual physical healing as well. Research done on baby monkeys separated from their parents (Harlow’s studies) showed that those who had a soft, terry-cloth mother “substitute” actually thrived physically. However, those who had a wire substitute did much more poorly, even though they were sufficiently fed. Primates – and that includes us – are obviously meant to be nurtured by softness. Somehow, softness is associated with the tender feelings of mother-love and as such, can trigger bits of that warm feeling in one who encounters it. People instinctively buy soft bears or other stuffed toys as baby gifts, but as it turns out, softness appeals to more than just babies.

Teddy Helps Manage Emotional Distress
A teddy bear can provide comfort through hard times. When a child suffers a loss or when he or she is feeling fearful or upset, the inanimate object has the power to soothe and comfort. The animal “looks” as if it understands and cares, which allows a child to feel supported while he or she is all alone. Having the chance to “talk” to the bear or simply communicate emotions non-verbally is equivalent to the adult exercise of journaling. Journaling involves writing feelings out on a piece of paper or computer screen: despite the fact that no one is receiving the journaled message, journaling has been shown to be highly therapeutic, helping people to release all sorts of emotional pain and work through their issues. The teddy bear is like a blank screen for a child or teen, an invitation to process emotional pain and clear it. Words don’t always need to be expressed; emotion can be transferred in a wordless hug.

Teddy Bears Convey Love and Acceptance
People of all ages see the “love” within stuffed animals. In fact, it is possible that stuffed animals can stimulate the energetic heart center and stimulate both emotional and physical healing – perhaps one day research will reveal just such a positive effect. Meanwhile, people will continue to buy stuffed toys for themselves and their loved ones even without documented health benefits! Stuffed animals have their own quiet way of saying “I love you.” This can be very helpful to a child who feels rejected by peers or who is suffering the anger of a parent or sibling. Even in good times, stuffed animals can add love to one’s life. For instance, cute bears are often exchanged between girlfriends and boyfriends on Valentine’s Day, birthdays and other romantic occasions. People also bring stuffed animals to hospital visits, to leave a bit of loving energy behind.

And, unlike their live furry counterparts, remember that stuffed animals don’t need to be fed or cleaned up after; they offer lots of the same emotional benefits without any real costs (except for the initial purchase!)

People Outgrow Their Teddy Bears and Live Normal Lives
Many adults still find stuffed animals adorable and even comforting, and while some people may claim this is infantile, it is probably better to take comfort from one’s Teddy Bear than from the alcohol, drugs, foods, pornography and other addictive and dangerous “comfort” objects that adults frequently access.

Some grownups are open about their relationship with a stuffed animal. The world record breaking land and water champion Donald Campbell was always with his Mr Whoppit teddy bear on record attempts. In the record breaking first non-stop Atlantic flight in 1919, aviation pioneers Alcock and Brown took their teddy bear mascots with them. Indeed, many adults feel that their bears and such are “lucky charms.” So go ahead and enjoy your own stuffed animals and give your blessing to your child’s bears as well.

Socially Unacceptable Bears
Peer pressure causes kids to give up the public affair with their bears. They stop taking them to school, sleepovers and so on because they don’t want other kids to make fun of them. For most children past the preschool years, bears stay home in bed.This is as it should be. If your teenager is inseparable from a stuffed animal (i.e. takes it with her around the house, takes it with her outside the house), you should arrange for professional assessment. Recognizing that bears are for comfort in one’s bed is a sign of normal development. It’s fine to like the funny and heartwarming look of stuffed animals around the house as well. What is not normal, however, is NEEDING a bear in one’s hand all the time past the age of 5 or so. Having said this, a child who has experienced a trauma may benefit from the comfort of a bear-in-arms even though that youngster is older than 5. Still, extended and inappropriate bear-holding even in traumatized kids is a sign that psychological assessment may be beneficial.

Stealing in Very Young Children

Your little pre-schooler just took his brother’s wallet and put it in his own drawer. Your little toddler hid the neighbor’s paper weight on her shorts pocket. And you’ve been looking for your brand new hairbrush all day, only to find that your 6-year old has taken it without permission to use for her dolly’s hair.

What’s the best way to handle stealing in young children?

Parents are right to be concerned about unethical behavior in their kids. It is, after all, a parental task to properly socialize their children, ensuring that they have appropriate behavior and good values. Clearly, “stealing” is a highly inappropriate behavior that must be stopped in its tracks.

But here’s the good news: stealing among very young children, 6 years old and below, is actually quite normal and common. More importantly, “theft” among members of this young group does not necessarily indicate future problems with the law!

Why Do Young Kids Steal?
There are many possible reasons why young children steal. Consider the following:

They Want to Explore
As children make the transition from infancy to toddlerhood, they begin to seriously explore their environment. Their curiosity drives them to touch everything around them – even objects that are forbidden to handle. They will try to break apart their toys, just to see what makes them tick.  Anything and everything is fair game for touching – even a hair brush might be interesting to a particular youngster. Consequently, when kids are very young they might take something, not because they have the intention to steal, but because they just want to examine or manipulate that object. And if they never give it back, it’s simply because they have no sense of natural order – they never return things they take for the same reason they never pick up after themselves! They’re not yet socialized and civilized.

They are Selfish by Nature
Young kids steal because they are born egocentric: that is, they think the world revolves around them. It is only when a child gets older that he or she develops empathy, or the realization that another person may have a different point of view. Thus, a child may feel justified to take something he  wants or likes, without regard for another’s feelings. He cannot imagine the upset and grief of the one who has now lost the object.

They Don’t Understand Ownership
The concept of ownership is too abstract for a very young mind. Kids only understand presence and absence; things are either in front of them or they’re not. They do not understand the idea that property belongs to others even when the others aren’t around. They also fail to understand that others may choose NOT to lend their items. Every object around them is just part of the world — there for taking!

They are Looking for Attention
Lastly, parents may not be aware that they might be reinforcing stealing behavior, by reacting with upset or anger, or even by reprimanding or punishing. They may also have accidentally indicated that stealing is funny, when having a good laugh over a long-missing object that turns out to be under the child’s pillow. Since small children are prone to do anything for attention, it’s important that parents minimize attention around the issue of taking other people’s belongings. A simple, “that belongs to your sister” followed by getting up and giving it back to the sibling, is sufficient for really small children.

How to Educate a Young “Thief”
When a child is really young, – say around 3 years old and less –  the best intervention is to just ignore the taking behavior, apart from giving instructions to give the item back (i.e. “This is Katie’s toy – let’s give it back to her.”). Reprimanding or punishing a behavior that will most often disappear on its own may even be counterproductive; it might shame or frighten the child for no  reason. Simply “childproof” your environment during these early years – keep valuables out of sight and reach and handle episodes of inappropriate touching and taking on a per-case basis.

As a child gets older, you can take the opportunity to teach him or her that stealing is wrong. You can start by introducing your 4 or 5 year old to the concepts of private property and personal ownership. You may also begin teaching which objects are objects are “public property” and which ones require permissions. Bibliotherapy – the reading of relevant story books – can be helpful at this stage. Ask your local librarian for some titles. You can also teach a young child important communication skills, showing them how to get  what they want or need by asking for it in an acceptable fashion. For example, you can teach them how to ask permission to play with a toy that they don’t own. Teaching them to return an object to its original location or owner and apologizing if they took something they shouldn’t, are also a good interventions. Again, a simple “We don’t take what isn’t ours,” is enough for this age group. “Please give it back right now.” If you suspect that your child is stealing in order to get extra attention, try offering more attention in healthier ways. If the problem doesn’t clear up, do seek professional intervention.

As a child grows a bit older – certainly by 5 and 6 years of age – go ahead and begin employing negative consequences for stealing. Follow the 2X-Rule formula for discipline (see Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe for details on this quiet, firm and respectful way to discipline children). In addition, encourage more appropriate behavior by remembering to acknowledge or even reward appropriate behaviors like asking permission before touching things and refraining from touching what shouldn’t be touched.

Other Interventions
Do keep in mind that each child is different and sometimes, children have an “itch” to take what isn’t theirs to take despite the best educational strategies of home and school. Characteristics like impulsivity, jealousy and even neediness are often inherited along with other traits and characteristics. If your child has a tendency to take things despite your best efforts, don’t blame yourself or even him! Simply work with this challenge patiently and lovingly. That will help a lot in itself. Consider Bach Flower Therapy for a little extra help: remedies in this system that may be helpful are Chestnut Bud (for impulsive, dishonest behavior), Holly (for jealousy), and Vine (for strong will, wanting what he wants). Read more about Bach Flower Remedies and how they can be used on this site (see Bach Flower Remedies).

If the problem is persistent or severe, do consult a child psychologist for further help. Breaking the taking habit early is the best approach!

Afraid of Monsters

Boogeyman under the bed, one-eyed balls of fur in the closet, you name it – children have vivid imaginations. This allows them to be endlessly creative and, unfortunately, to conjure up endless varieties of frightening images. Imagination, combined with a child’s actual experience of real helplessness against forces much larger than himself, often finds expression in the common childhood fear of “monsters.” Far from being “cute,” this fear can prevent kids from getting a good night sleep. It often leaves them afraid to be alone in their own rooms, fearing shadows, cabinets, closets and that ominous space under the bed.

If your child is afraid of monsters, consider the following tips:

Accept the Feeling of Fear
Fear of monsters may seem silly to adults, but it is a serious matter for young children. Avoid shaming the child or discounting his feelings, even as a form of encouragement (i.e “don’t be silly!”). Instead, acknowledge that the child is afraid by saying something like “I know you’re afraid.” This simple comment can accomplish many things: it conveys understanding (which, in itself, is therapeutic for the child), it helps strengthen the parent-child bond (because the child feels “seen” by the parent), and it helps shrink the fear (because naming the feeling gives it a “box” to fit in, rather than leaving it larger than life). The simple naming of a feeling without negative judgment helps the child to accept and release his own feelings which, over time, helps him to calm himself down more easily. The naming of a feeling is called “Emotional Coaching” and it helps build the child’s emotional intelligence (see “Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice” for more information about this technique.)

Teach Courage in the Face of Fear
After you’ve named the child’s fear, you can provide problem-solving tools and you can still enforce your normal household rules. You might say something like this: “I know you’re afraid of monsters. You can keep the little night light on and sleep with your bear. You need to go to sleep now.” As we have already mentioned, there is no need to discount the child’s fear (i.e. by saying things like “There’s nothing to be afraid of.”)  You can acknowledge the fear and still insist that the child sleep in his or her own room.

Positive Stories can Help
Use stories to help empower children. Kids who are afraid of monsters are usually toddlers and preschoolers; the older a child gets, the less believable monsters are. Younger kids are not likely to believe a parent’s direct reassurance that monsters don’t exist. After all, how would parents know? Maybe they just haven’t seen one. Because of this, indirect methods of communicating are best. Library books with stories of kids who “conquer” monsters can provide relief and an indirect invitation to be courageous in the face of “boogeymen.” In addition, making up stories of children who overcome all sorts of challenges, can help kids feel less helpless and more competent. This helps reduce the insecurity that leads to fears of monsters. Parents might take their child’s name, add a title, and make up adventures. For instance, here is a story that one Mom made up for her son Kevin:

“There was once a little boy named “Kevin-the-Brave.” Kevin-the-Brave took his friends to explore the deep jungles of Africa. He was paddling his boat up the river when he saw a big crocodile up ahead. ‘Quick,’ called Kevin-the-Brave to his friends, ‘throw me a rope! I have to swing it over that branch and pull our boat away from the crocodile. Someone handed Kevin the rope; he threw it high and it landed on a nearby tree. Quickly he tugged on it to pull the boat sharply out of the crocodile’s path and they were saved.”

The story continues with adventure after adventure, with little Kevin  always saving the day. These kinds of stories have a tremendously empowering effect on kids, sending messages of courage and strength deep into their little minds. Try it and observe the results!

Use Positive Imagination to Elicit Safety & Comfort
You can encourage positive imagination through comfort objects. Young children can find a little extra comfort in stuffed animals and dolls – especially kids with good imaginations. Imagination, after all, can produce different kinds of images; negative images like scary monsters and protective images like magic bears. Encourage your imaginative child to generate helpful, happy ideas. The more the child does this, the stronger the positive mental habit becomes. Instead of saying, “See, there are no monsters,” you can guide the child to positive thinking by saying, “Here is your friend the Bear to cuddle with. The two of you can sleep together. The bear will keep you company and scare the monsters away.” If possible, get one or two smiley, happy-looking dolls or stuffed toys for the child’s room and put up positive images on the walls (bright, happy-looking pictures). Keep the atmosphere safe and friendly looking. To keep your young child’s mind focused in brighter places, consider playing some sweet lullaby music as he or she drifts off to sleep. Music can calm the anxious mind and distract the child from his or her worry-habit.

Be Careful Not to Reinforce Fears
Avoidance makes fears worse –  try not to solve the problem by letting your child sleep in your room in order to escape the monsters in his room! Moreover, be careful not to show significant interest in the fear; keep your interventions brief and low-key. In this way, you will not accidentally reinforce the fear by giving it excessive attention. Simply attend to the child in a calm, brief, matter-of-fact way. “I know you’re afraid. You can keep the night light on. Remember to use your calming techniques. I’ll be downstairs with Dad.”

Provide Protective Presence
If you have the time, it’s fine to stay with your young child for 10 or 15 minutes IN HIS OR HER OWN ROOM until he or she drifts off to sleep. Surviving the experience of being in his or her own room is an important aspect of healing the fear. However, being supported emotionally in the room is fine – the child doesn’t have to go it alone in order to get better. Young children feel most secure (and least bothered by monsters) when their parents or other loved ones stay with them during the transition to sleep. Most kids outgrow the need and desire for this practice once they are school age. Let kids share a room: kids tend to have less monster fears when sharing a room with a sibling. Keep in mind that the fear of monsters is time-limited and you can change sleeping arrangements later on.

Consider Bach Flower Remedies
Bach Flower Therapy is a harmless water-based naturopathic treatment that can ease emotional distress and even prevent it from occurring in the future. Of the 38 Bach Remedies, several are excellent for different types of fear. For instance, Aspen is for vague fears like fear of the dark, fear of ghosts or fear of monsters. The remedy Rock Rose is for panic. If a child loses control due to intense fear, Cherry Plum will return stability. If the child becomes stubborn, absolutely refusing to sleep in his room for example, Vine can help him become more cooperative. Bach Flowers are sold in health food stores around the world. You can mix several together in one treatment bottle. Fill a one-ounce Bach Mixing Bottle (an empty bottle with a glass dropper, sold wherever Bach Remedies are sold) with water. Add two drops of each remedy. Add one teaspoon of brandy. The bottle is now ready to use: place 4 drops in any liquid (juice, water, milk, tea, soup, etc.) and give it to your child 4 times each day: morning, midday, afternoon and evening. Remedies can be taken with or without food. Continue until the fear has dissipated. Treat again if the fear returns. Continue in this way, treating the fear when it is present and stopping treatment when it is not present, until it is simply gone. In this way, a child can become more secure over time and possibly less prone to anxious feelings in the future.

Seek Professional Intervention
If you find that your child is still intensely fearful of monsters even after you have provided self-soothing techniques, do consider accessing professional help. A child-psychologist may be able to treat your child’s fear in a few brief sessions.

Teething

Teething refers to the eruption of new teeth in the baby, a developmental milestone that usually first occurs around 6 – 10 months of age although sometimes starts as early as 3 months. Some babies teeth appear one at a time. Others cut several teeth simultaneously. Teething is usually a painless process. However, some babies do experience uncomfortable symptoms. For instance, there can be loss of appetite, sleeplessness, ear pulling, gum rubbing, coughing, and possibly a low fever. Drooling may cause an uncomfortable  rash around the mouth. Some infants and toddlers  experience significant soreness, swelling and even blisters in their gums during this period. It is common (and understandable) for babies and toddlers to be more distressed and irritable than usual when they are teething.

If your baby is in the process of teething, consider the following tips:

Unhappy Babies
Parents are advised to be more patient and sensitive to their child’s changing moods and needs during the teething stage. Infants can become so distressed with teething pains that they cry all the time. Teething may also result in behavior traditionally associated with infant distress, such as clinging to Mom or refusing to be separated. Try to be patient – your little one will become more independent and happy again when the tooth finally appears. However, as many teeth need to cut through, you can realistically expect to have to settle and soothe your teething baby off and on for almost 3 years! There are likely to be some hard days and nights. Even so, these will be scattered between the happier, pain-free periods, giving both you and your baby a much welcomed break!

How to Help Your Teething Baby
Fortunately, there are many things parents can do to help. If there is inflammation, applying something cold to the gums usually helps. Gently rubbing ice cubes in the area where the tooth is about to come out has been known to soothe pain. There are also teething toys, such as teething rings, that you can place in the freezer for an additional chill. Frozen washcloths and cold water are also good alternatives. Some parents have found cold foods such as yogurt and chilled applesauce to be helpful. If none of the above work for your baby, you can try using Infant Tylenol and other infant medicines. Your pediatrician may recommend a specific product.

Traditional means of soothing a distressed infant are also recommended during this stage. At this time, traditional comforts such as holding and rocking are definitely in order. Providing additional stimulation, such as a gentle massage, may also prove a valid distraction to a baby that is teething.

Making Temporary Adjustments
If the soreness is interfering with the infant’s ability to eat and drink, parents might have to make some temporary changes in the child’s diet or feeding style. For instance, a child on solids may need a temporary liquid diet until chewing becomes more comfortable again. Offering the child cold water in between feedings can also help. In some cases, giving a child something solid to bite on is very helpful (avoid choking hazards of course!).

The good news is that teething eventually comes to an end. For most kids, the stage passes uneventfully with minor symptoms requiring little or no intervention.

Wakes Up Too Early

Many young children rise with the sun – which can be way too early for their exhausted parents. Indeed, it is not unusual for a parent to be waking up several times a night to tend to an infant and then to have to deal with a toddler or pre-schooler who is up at 5:45 a.m. These little people often toddle into the parental bedroom asking for help in going to the bathroom or wanting to climb into bed or asking for something to eat or drink. Loveable as they might be, they are NOT who parents want to see at that hour of the morning.

If your young child wakes up too early for your liking, consider the following tips:

Try to Change Your Child’s Sleep Cycle
If your child currently goes to bed at 7:00 p.m. and wakes up at 5:30 a.m., try changing his or her bedtime to an hour or more later. In other words, keep the child awake (by whatever means you can devise!) until 8 p.m. every night. Since the child still needs the same number of hours of sleep in order to feel refreshed, chances are good that he or she will sleep in to a more civilized hour.

Something that might also help is blacking out the child’s room. Use heavy light-blocking blinds to prevent light from pouring into the child’s room. This might help the youngster stay asleep longer.

Teach Independent Skills
If your child gets up too early for you, teach him what to do until you awaken later. Make a rule that the child is NOT allowed to wake you up EXCEPT for those conditions that you establish. For instance, you might give the child permission to wake you to help him or her in the bathroom. However, after helping the child, YOU go back to sleep and the child engages in independent activities (that you establish beforehand). However, many children who wake too early are quite capable of taking themselves to the bathroom. If so, make sure that everything the child might need is ready for him in the bathroom. For instance, make sure the light is on, any potty or toilet seat is already prepared and a stool is in place for handwashing. Similarly, make sure that toys, games and even snacks are available for the child in his room in the case that he wakes before you. If you have a computer or similar instrument the child can use, have it charged up and ready-to-go with a tap of some chubby fingers. Insist that the child amuse himself in his room – or in another designated room. Under no circumstances is the child welcome in your room to play or eat. However, if the child wants to lie down in your room after awakening early, he can do that – on a small mattress on the floor without talking to anyone.

Once you establish your morning “rule,” you may have to use negative consequences to reinforce it. This means that you will have to warn the child that waking you up will result in a punishment for the child. For instance, you can say something like, “from now on, if you wake Mommy or Daddy up in the morning, you will not have your chocolate milk treat for breakfast.”  Pick some consequence you think will motivate the child to wait for you to wake up. Do not attempt to use anger to get your child to stay in his room or his bed; not only will it not work, but it provides a poor model of frustration control and pro-relationship problem-solving strategies. Simple rules with simple consequences are most potent and least harmful.

Alternatively, you may use positive reinforcement instead of negative consequences. Every morning that the child manages to entertain himself until you wake up earns the youngster a point. Let the child earn a few points and then trade the points in for a small prize. Then tell the child he now has to earn more points, but when he does succeed, he gets a bigger prize. Then tell the child he gets a point for each successful morning, but now needs even more points and will get an even bigger prize. End the period of practice with even more points that lead to a grand prize (something the child has long-wanted.) During this period, do NOT punish unsuccessful mornings: the implied punishment is the loss of the point for that morning, thereby delaying the opportunity to receive his reward.

Reduce the Payoff
When your child tries to wake you up in the morning, be careful NOT to give high quality attention. Don’t speak loudly. In fact, try not to wake up completely even if you have to tend somewhat to your child’s needs. Through your behavior, show your child that it is not time to start the day. If possible, stay in your bed and don’t even talk. If you must talk, whisper and say few words. Give minimal attention only. When it is wake-up time, however, do the opposite: give high quality, happy morning attention. Let the child see the difference between your sleeping state and your awakened state. Be patient, firm and consistent. Your child will soon catch on that early morning is not a time that you will be available to tend to his needs.

Wakes Up Too Frequently

Like adults, children can wake up in the night.  They may do so for any number of reasons, depending on their age, health and unique characteristics. However, when a child awakens in the night, other members of the household may be disturbed (i.e. siblings sleeping nearby or parents in their own room). If nighttime awakenings happen only on rare occasions, it’s not a big problem. But what if a child routinely wakens in the night and does so more than one time?

If your child wakes up too frequently, consider the following tips:

Babies Naturally Wake Up Often
Newborns and infants wake to feed every 90 minutes or so. There’s not much that can be done for this age group; they’re SUPPOSED to wake up in the night every couple of hours. The best solution for tired parents is to try to catch a few naps in the daytime. Sleep when the baby sleeps in those early weeks and for as long as you can manage it. Some people are able to afford night nurses so that they can sleep through those night wakings, but many cannot. Some couples trade off in the night, so that each one only loses half the sleep. Some people take the newborn into bed with them, finding this less exhausting than having to get out of bed and walk down the hall to another room, or even to get out of bed and go to the baby’s cradle in the same room. Some folks can afford daytime help that allows them to take a generous snooze in daylight hours. Those who have only the one baby or other kids in school, can and should try to nap when the baby naps. The good news is that this stage of life eventually passes and babies will sleep for longer stretches. Some babies will actually sleep right through the night from 8 or 9 months of age. Some will accomplish this later – say at 14 or 16 months. And some, will not sleep right through the night until they are 6 years old!

Toddlers Still Seek Parental Comfort at Night
While some toddlers sleep through the night without interruption, there are many who don’t. In this latter group, some children awaken just once and then settle back to sleep for the night. Some want a little parental presence, while some want a lot (i.e. they want to climb into the parents’ bed). If parents provide that presence (either by letting him in their bed or by patting him back to sleep), some of these little ones will just go back to sleep for the rest of the night. If you are fine with that, go ahead and let it happen. All kids eventually outgrow the need and desire to sleep in their parents’ bed. However, if you prefer to train your child to stay in his own room for the duration of the night, you will have to do a bit of nighttime sleep training.

To begin with, you need to understand that parental touch and presence is comforting and pleasant for small children. When little kids enter a light sleep cycle, they often call out for this touch or presence. If parents are willing to pat the child back to sleep, or talk to him or hold him and rock him, then the little night-waker may expect this service each time he wakes up in the night. In order not to have to provide it, you will want to create a scenario in which the child must soothe HIMSELF back to sleep. Once you accomplish that, the little one will put himself back to sleep after waking in the night.

Parental Consistency is Key
Put your little one to bed in the usual way. Provide a night light, soft toy and other comforts and then leave the room. If the child wakes up and calls for you, you can come to the room – but do not pick up the child or touch him. Simply tell him that it’s late and he should go back to sleep. Then leave. If he calls again, wait a bit and then come back and tell him the same thing. Don’t stand too close – it’s best to stand in the doorway. Each time he calls for you, wait a little longer before coming. The idea is to provide reassuring presence without providing reinforcing contact. When the child figures out that he’s not going to get much out of this and it’s getting to be hard work for little payoff, he usually stops calling for parents and just stays asleep. Keep in mind that if you decide to do this with your child, you cannot interrupt the process by taking the child into your bed. Some parents make exceptions and let the child come into their bed when he is sick or when he has been crying for a long time or even when THEY are just too tired to deal with it. Providing these exceptions causes the child to learn that it’s worth staying up and screaming for as long as possible because it might just yield some positive results! If you take the child into your room even once in awhile, it can become impossible to get him to stop waking up in the night.

School-Aged Children Wake for Different Reasons
When bigger children are waking up frequently in the night, there is something wrong. Some kids are fearful of sleeping in their own room or being separated from their parents. Whereas such feelings are common for two and three year-olds, their existence in kids over six might indicate the presence of some anxiety. A mental health professional should be consulted. Some kids wake up because of various health problems. Always have a pediatrician do a full workup to determine if a physical condition is causing the frequent waking. For instance, it is possible that the child suffers from a breathing difficulty known as “sleep apnea.” If doctors have agreed that there is no emotional or physical cause for frequent nighttime awakenings, then you can safely use behavioral interventions to help the child. As for younger children, make it clear that you expect the child to stay in his or her own room. Let the child know that YOU need your sleep and you will NOT be tending to his or her needs once it’s night. Provide the child with books, crayons or puzzles to entertain him or herself with, should awakening occur. Make it clear that no one can be disturbed, including other children in the house. When the child sees that everyone is sleeping and no one is coming to look after him or her, the child usually decides to stay asleep. However, if your child insists on coming into your room and disturbing you, feel free to inform him or her that causing you to wake up will result in a (significant) negative consequence the next day. If necessary, be sure to apply the consequence (show the child you mean business!). Be consistent. Apply the consequence each day that follows night time disturbance. Hopefully, the child will soon get your point. If he or she fails to learn, see a professional counselor for further suggestions.

Sleeping Issues

There are many sleeping issues that babies, children and teens may have. Many of them are the “normal” sleeping issues that almost all parents deal with in the course of raising children: in one way or another, the child isn’t sleeping enough. Perhaps the child isn’t sleeping right through the night, or isn’t going to sleep early enough, or is waking too early. It’s true that some kids wake up too late, but those children usually went to bed too late also. (It’s also true that some kids go to bed on time and get up late, meaning they are getting too much sleep, but this is a relatively rare sleeping problem that is usually attended to by the child’s medical doctor.)

However, there are other fairly common sleeping issues that youngsters may have includiing some of the following:

  • suffering from night terrors (screaming with fear without dreaming, can’t be consoled, forgetting it happened)
  • suffering from nightmares (experiencing scary dreams, usually remembered upon waking)
  • experiencing insomnia (trouble falling asleep or staying asleep)
  • suffering from restless leg syndrome (painful or uncomfortable sensations in the limbs that disturb sleep)
  • breathing problems like sleep apnea (interrupted breathing that causes snoring and/or waking throughout the night)
  • sleep-walking
  • experiencing unrestful sleep
  • tooth grinding

There are also other, more rare, disturbances of sleep that can affect people of all ages. If your child has any sleeping problem whatsoever, consider the following tips:

Common Causes of Sleep Issues
The “normal” sleep issues are caused by childhood! Babies just want to be with their parents 24/7 and suck and snack throughout the night. Toddlers also want to be with their parents and tend to wake with the sun. School-aged and older don’t like to go to bed – they are too enthused by life and all its stimulating activities. Adults also often have that problem! In our modern society, light bulbs give us the opportunity to keep  active all hours of the day and night and with the exception of a small number of children, adolescents and adults, most people want to stay up too long.

In addition, dietary factors may affect sleep. Having too much caffeine in the evening (available in soda as well as chocolate, coffee and tea) can cause excessive wakefulness at bedtime. Sugar can do the same.

Many sleep problems can be caused by physical and emotional issues. For instance, depression, anxiety and ADD/ADHD are just a few of the many disorders that can affect a child’s ability to sleep well througout the night. Depression can cause wakenings between 1 and 3a.m. or early termination of sleep around 4:30 or 5a.m. Anxiety in the form of “separation anxiety” can prevent children from sleeping happily in their own rooms or their own beds. ADHD can cause problems in settling down to sleep, staying asleep, or feeling rested by sleep. Physical conditions such as chronic pain, itching, breathing problems, endocrine and metabloic diseases, neuromuscular disorders and many other conditions can interrupt sleep.  There are also substance-induced sleep disorders caused by alcohol, illegal drugs and medicines.

What can Parents Do?
The normal sleep issues are best addressed by healthy sleep routines (see the articles on “bedtime problems” on this site). Understand that babies and small children normally wake many times in the night and eventually outgrow this practice (with or without help from their parents). You can read all the sleep books you want, but if your child still has waking issues, keep in mind that this is normal in kids up to around 5 years old or so. Nonetheless, always describe your child’s sleeping difficulties to your pediatrician just to rule out medical causes.

Helping Them Fall Asleep
Some babies, kids and teens have trouble getting into sleep mode. They cannot settle down either emotionally or physically or both. It’s as if their “on button” is stuck in the “on” position! These children can benefit from a wide range of interventions that your pediatrician, naturopath and mental health professional can suggest. Be prepared to spend time and effort in experimentation – it takes professionals awhile to diagnose the cause of sleep-onset disturbances and it takes parents time to see which interventions will make a positive difference. Don’t blame your child for having this sort of trouble. He’s probably not very happy with the situation either. Older children and teens may be able to participate in their “cure” by learning relaxation techniques (meditation, visualization, breath work) or modifying their habits (to include more exercise, dietary changes, quieting activities in the evening). Even so, the “how-to” of good sleep hygiene may have to come from a professional rather than the parent. Somehow kids take outside “authorities” more seriously than Mom and Dad.

Getting Them Back to Sleep
It would be less of a problem if those children who woke up didn’t wake their parents up! If they would wake up and then just turn over and go to sleep, it would actually be a totally normal process – humans don’t actually tend to sleep 8 hours straight without interruption. Rather, they wake up frequently during the night but then go quickly back to sleep. Parents work hard to help their youngsters stay asleep all night, but their efforts would be better directed to helping children soothe themselves back to sleep. Again, a team of professionals may be helpful in this regard, offering self-help strategies ranging from relaxation strategies to sniffing essential oils that have been prepared for the occasion. Breathing problems can contribute to frequent waking, as can other physical health conditions, so it is important to talk to your child’s doctor about this symptom. In fact, be sure to tell your child’s doctor everything you can about your child’s sleeping problems. Even if everything checks out fine on the physical front, parents will want to do something up their child’s night time wakefulness. Naturopaths may be of assistance: professional herbalists, for instance, can sometimes create a special tea for the child that will strengthen the youngster’s ability to sleep deeply and steadily through the night. Homeopaths may be able to address the condition as well. Sometimes hypnotherapists or child therapists will have expertise in this area as well. Sometimes nothing will help the child stay asleep, but parents can still help the child to stay in his bed – mental health professionals can provide techniques ranging from positive reinforcement to negative consequences.

Consult a Professional
In any case of sleeping issues, do consider consulting your child’s pediatrician for further advice and guidance.

Premature Babies

The birth of a premature baby can bring mixed emotions: the joy of the newborn’s arrival and the worry over health issues. Sometimes, when the premature birth is completely unexpected, there is also a feeling of shock and panic. Will the baby survive? Will she be alright? Indeed, some premature babies literally have to fight for their life in a neonatal intensive care unit. Some parents feel responsible: did we do something wrong while pregnant? Even when the early birth is clearly accepted as out of the parent’s control, parents may begin to feel the pressure that accompanies caring for any “special needs” child. They know their child is more fragile than an average infant and may face more developmental challenges. Their radar goes up – they are more vigilant. Since caring for a full term baby is already an intensive, exhausting process, it is easy to imagine how caring for a premature baby can sometimes challenge parents to their max.

If you are the parent of a premature infant who has health issues, take heart: both the survival rate and the prognosis for healthy development among preemies is now excellent. With the right medical intervention and adequate postnatal care, preemies tend to do very well indeed. Although your task might feel overwhelming at first, it will get easier (if you can call parenting a baby “easy” at any stage!). Let’s take a closer look at the phenomenon of premature births:

What is a Premature Baby?
A baby is considered premature when he or she is born before 37 weeks of pregnancy. It is estimated that around 500,000 babies (or about 9%) of live births in America each year are premature. Because preemies are born ahead of schedule, it is possible that they will suffer from temporary health concerns brought about by inadequate pre-natal development. The bigger the gap between actual and anticipated birth date, the more serious the health problems tend to be. However, because of the sophistication of modern medical interventions, almost all such health issues can be adequately addressed. Indeed, almost all preemies survive their initial struggle and grow up to be indistinguishable from the rest of the population.

Common Health Issues of Premature Babies
A common health condition of preemies is hyperbilirubinemia affecting 80% of prematurely born infants. Babies with hyperbilirubinemia have a high amount of bilirubin (a compound resulting from the natural breakdown of blood). Babies with hyperbilirubinemia are placed under special lights that help the body get rid of bilirubin. Other common health problems of premature infants include: sleep apnea, respiratory distress syndrome, infection, bronchopulmonary dysplasia, anemia, low blood pressure, retinopathy of prematurity and patent ductus arteriosus. These conditions all respond well to medical treatment.

What to Expect
Premature Babies are placed in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) until the infant can go home. After leaving the NICU most babies will still require special care. Frequent examinations will be made to make sure that the baby is developing in a completely healthy way.

Premature babies generally come home from the hospital at the time of their original due date. Premature babies will need to feed 8-10 times a day at first. It’s important not to wait longer than 4 hours in between the feeding times in order to prevent dehydration. Breastfeeding is one of the best ways to protect an infant from germs and sickness, during the first months after birth. Making sure to keep on track with feeding times is crucial – even if it is necessary to wake a sleeping baby. The baby may not give clear signs that she is hungry so frequent feeding is necessary even in the absence of signs of hunger. Premature babies should not begin eating solids until 4-6 months after their due date (not birthday), in order to be able to swallow.

Premature babies will sleep more often than normal babies, but they will wake up after shorter intervals of time. They may sleep up to 22 hours a day during their first weeks at home. The baby should be put to sleep on her back. Remember that when a preemie reaches an adjusted age of 6 to 8 months, she should be able to sleep through the night.

In premature infants, the baby’s ability to control bodily movements often lags behind the development of senses (hearing, touching, seeing). Parents needn’t worry if their baby has trouble holding his head up or making smooth, coordinated movements with his limbs – this will all develop in time. In fact, the premature baby may develop slower than a full-term baby in many ways. It may take up to two years to catch up with children who were born on their expected birth date.

What Causes a Premature Birth?
There are many possible reasons why a baby may have been born early. However, most cases of prematurity are caused by unknown factors and factors outside the parents’ control. Indeed, in the majority of cases of premature birth, doctors have no warning sign that a premature birth is likely. And most parents are similarly taken by surprise by their early labor. Nonetheless, we do know some conditions that can lead to higher chances of premature births – some of which can be avoided in future pregnancies and some of which are outside of the parents’ control. Undiagnosed problems in the uterus or the cervix can cause early labor. Twins are often born prematurely. Maternal obesity, diabetes and hypertension can also increase the risk of giving birth ahead of schedule. Poor diet, lack of folic acid, smoking, drinking alcohol or taking illegal and regulated drugs are other  risk factors. Mothers with a history of taking medication designed to induce abortions may also be at risk for giving birth to a premature child.

How can parents help themselves and their new baby?

There are many things parents of premature babies can do to help their child and one another. Consider the following:

Deal with Your Emotions
As mentioned, parents go through many conflicting feelings when a preemie is born. It helps to be able to express fear, upset or grief over the situation. Often, hospital social services are available to ease the shock and pain and provide practical support. But parents can do each other a big favor by just letting each other talk it out – without offering reassurance, correction or any other comment. Listening to each other non-judgmentally is the greatest gift of all. Providing practical support to each other – helping each other find ways to relax, rest and refresh – will also do wonders for both parents.

Be Involved
Stay close and get informed about your preemie’s condition. Because they were born before term, premature babies may be suffering from various health issues – some easily managed by the medical team and on rare occasion, some that cause conditions that can be critical. It helps for parents to learn what they can about their baby’s status; knowledge reduces the sense of overwhelm and helplessness. Often, parents can help their premature baby by spending time in the neonatal intensive care unit. Touching the infant may be a simple but effective way of providing valuable stimulation.

Make Arrangements for a Healthy Home
Even when the preemie has been released from the hospital, he or she is still vulnerable to infections and opportunistic diseases. It’s important then that parents invest in making their home suitable for their premature baby. Pollutants in the household that wouldn’t otherwise harm a baby born to term may be intolerable for your infant. Consult your doctor on how to best prepare your home for your little one.

Know What to Expect
It’s not unusual for premature babies to experience some developmental delay. For instance, milestones typical of a child 6-7 months of age may be achieved by a premature baby later. Premature babies also tend to behave differently than babies born to term; for example some may have difficulty expressing their needs through crying, especially in the early weeks. Some preemies will need interventions as they develop. For instance, many will benefit from speech therapy or occupational therapy for gross and fine motor coordination. Sometimes a preemie will go on to have learning disabilities that will require attention as well. However parents need to be aware that many children who are born at full term also need various interventions as they grow up and not all developmental quirks are caused by prematurity. Like the rest of the full term population, preemies can have the full range of human challenges simply because they’re human! It is important for parents to help their child outgrow the “preemie” designation over the course of the first few years of life. Continuing to treat the child as particularly fragile or vulnerable long past the challenges of the early days does more harm than good.

Sometimes intervention services such as physical, occupational, speech therapy, or developmental therapy may be helpful during the first couple of years after birth, enhancing progress and preventing delays or developmental deficits.