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Sep 1 2011

Hitting Milestones, Are You Looking For the Right Ones?

By at 2:01 pm

Between birth and bar mitzvah, our kids go through a million changes and achievements.

And not surprisingly, we parents get a little obsessed about milestones. There are the typical ones that get all the press—rolling over, sitting up, starting solids, crawling, walking and talking. It’s always exciting to see your baby become less of a poop machine and more of a little human, but in my experience, most of the major milestones are seriously overrated.

Think about it. The baby can roll over, and all of a sudden you’re worried about SIDS. She starts eating solids, which means you need to start making (or in my case, buying) all those nasty little purees, and then you get to worry about whether or not baby is eating her vegetables. Don’t forget about the clean-up after every meal—not just the table, but the floor, the walls, the baby, and the baby’s diapers, which are now shockingly stinky. Once they start crawling, if you take your eyes off of them even for a minute they’re poised to fall down the stairs, , and even though it’s helpful when they can communicate, once they start talking, sometimes you just wish they would, well, stop.

Read the rest of this entry →

Aug 10 2011

Yikes! I’m Sending My Daughter to Preschool

By at 3:19 pm

cherry suckerPicture this: It’s drop-off time on the first day of preschool. There’s all sorts of kicking and screaming, outstretched arms and wails of “No!” And that’s just what I’ll be doing in a few weeks.

When my husband returned to work a couple weeks after I had Ellie in December 2009, I panicked: What was I going to do with her? What if she choked on spit-up? What if I had to pee and she was asleep on me? What if I had to eat and she was asleep on me?

Fast forward 20 months and Ellie and I have developed a lovely routine of enjoying music classes, play gyms, play dates and mother/daughter fro-yo parties. I’m lucky that my gigs as a freelance journalist and group cycling instructor enable me to perform my most challenging job: stay-at-home mom. As a result, I know what she’s doing every minute of every day.

And soon I won’t. It’s not a control issue, despite how it sounds. I just genuinely enjoy seeing what Ellie does each day – what she likes, what she could do without, how she learns and develops. After months of reading the same book to her and hoping she likes it, she suddenly asks for it by name, for instance.

I sound ridiculous to moms who leave their children at daycares or have regular babysitters. I know. And I also know that putting her in the care of someone else for nine hours a week will be great for her. Her teachers know way more about early childhood education than I do. After all, it takes a village.

Besides, it’s not like I’ll be twiddling my thumbs while she’s at school. I’ve taken on a Spinning class one morning, and I can resume writing arts and culture articles, which got too hard to do when I spent my time at a museum exhibit chasing E than pondering Picasso. Plus, I can go to Target and actually concentrate on what I’m buying so that for once, I come home with the toilet paper I need and not a random assortment of toddler clothes, garden supplies and wrapping paper that somehow catapulted into my cart while I was busy preventing Ellie from smashing nail polish bottles on the floor.

I think Ellie will love school, so I’m not worried about her reaction. I just hope I won’t embarrass her when the teacher tells me to be a big girl and shoos me out with a lollipop of consolation.

Aug 1 2011

Batya the Sleep Coach: Night Terrors and More

By at 11:20 am

When the kids are waking up every night and need your help to get back to sleep... it's time to call Batya!Israeli sleep coach, Batya Sherizen is taking questions from Kveller readers. Send your problems to info@kveller.com.

Dear Batya,
My 5-year-old slept pretty well as a baby but around the time he turned 3 1/2 he started coming into my bed in the middle of the night. It started occasionally, sometimes preceded by a night terror. It has since become a nightly event. We have tried making him a bed on the floor next to mine but he needs to feel a body next to him. Sometimes he says it is because he is scared of an intruder, but not always. His doctors have told me both to try the walk back method (Supernanny) or that he needs to be in my bed and I should just let him. I am not sure which way to go. As a baby, I let him cry it out since I believed that he needed to learn to self-soothe. I have done that with each of my kids with good results. I just wonder if at this age it is a different story. I need my sleep but don’t want him to suffer. Any advice?

-Aliza

Hi Aliza,

A 5-year-old coming out of his bed is definitely something that needs to be addressed (especially since you are not enjoying these midnight cuddle sessions!) Assuming that he is not truly frightened at night, I would do things on an incentive basis in attempts to change his habits. Buy him a very special treat, toy or something that you know he’d love. Show it to him before bed and tell him that if he doesn’t come out of his bed the whole night then you will give it to him in the morning. Be sure to clearly define the rules though: if he has to go to the bathroom he can come out, or if he has a scary dream he can come out and you’ll calm him and put him back in his bed, etc. For a week or even two I would offer him this special incentive every night before bedtime to help encourage him to want to stay in his own bed. After that point, you can gradually phase it out or move to a weekly prize instead of a daily one. Read the rest of this entry →

Jul 21 2011

Dental Hygiene: Like Father, Like Daughter

By at 1:45 pm

For the first time in my life I’m brushing my teeth three times a day. Sort of.

If you’re the sort of clean fanatic who is now freaking out over the gross implication that I have somehow survived for several adult decades without five daily brushings and flossings, I’m sorry. At least you don’t have to look at me while you read this. I’ve always been a twice a day man: once after breakfast and once before bed. Until now.

Now I’m in charge of cleaning daughter number two’s teeth before bed. And there’s nothing quite like personal example to make it happen. Somehow the argument that she’s cleaning her teeth before she goes to bed and I will clean my teeth before I go to bed is entirely uncompelling. First to her and then, by reflection, to me.

It sounds bogus, even though I know it to be 100% true, when I tell her that I will, really, honestly, brush my teeth later when she’s asleep and she won’t see me do it. She ignores my words and I feel the hollowness of the claim. It gets swallowed up by that great grown-up gala of open-mouthed cookie-eating, soda drinking, nose-picking and TV-watching that kids know goes on once they are in bed.

She doesn’t say anything yet about the rampant hypocrisy she perceives–she’s not quite 3 years old–but when I demur from brushing my teeth, she cajoles me into doing it. “Come on daddy, let’s brush our teeth now, you don’t want to get cavities.”

Quite.

Jul 7 2011

My Son’s First Haircut at Three Years Old

By at 11:49 am

The Before

My 3-year-old son had his first haircut this past February. By the time he got that first shearing, his hair had grown into a long and curly halo that we usually had to tie back to keep out of his face. We weren’t trying to make a statement about gender identity. We were waiting until he was 3 to cut his hair so we could do an upsherin. When his hair first began to grow and he started to get that unkempt little boy look is when I fell in love with the idea of letting it grow until his 3rd birthday. He had the most beautiful little curls that grew into ringlets that everyone would stop to comment on. Maybe if his hair had grown in looking like a mullet I would have felt differently, but I loved his shaggy look.

“What a cute little girl!” It’s been fascinating to see the reactions of people both Jewish and non when I told them that my ponytailed older child was a boy and not a girl. Every single one of them looks confused even when I follow up with, “We’re waiting until he’s 3 to cut his hair. It’s a Jewish custom.” Since this is Jew York, a few follow up with, “I’ve heard of that.” Then they take a look at me, usually in flip-flops and a tank top or some other variation of a mom outfit. “Are you religious?”

My husband grew up in a traditional Jewish home in a religious section of Brooklyn. His parents didn’t cut his hair or his brother’s until they were 3, but he was not Orthodox by any stretch. Our house is even less adherent to Jewish customs than my husband’s was but we both thought it would be nice for our boys to grow up having an upsherin as part of their early introduction to their heritage. The Yiddish word literally means “to cut off.” I had never even heard of this until my husband and I had kids and he told me about it. This custom is mostly observed nowadays by the ultra-observent Hasidic Jews where that first haircut leaves the 3-year-old with the start of their side curls. Read the rest of this entry →

Ask Bubbe: Why is My 5-Year-Old So Obnoxious?

By at 10:03 am

Dear Bubbe,

What should I do about my sassy 5-year-old daughter? I tell her to do something, she responds, “NO!” She’s been getting increasingly defiant lately, despite our efforts to discipline her.

Jody, California

Hi Jody,

I will preface any comments here by saying that, whatever you think a 5-year-old can get up to is NOTHING compared to what a 15 -year-old can get up to. So in the face of whatever your Miss Sass can throw at you, try to maintain perspective. (Little children, little problems, big children, big problems–old Yiddish proverb, sounds better in Yiddish.)

Children are mirrors; children are sponges; children have friends, but the grip of the peer group is unlikely to be driving her behavior at this stage. If you want respect from her, you need to show her respect, too. This does not mean that the relationship is democratic; you are in charge. You want her to WANT to please you but it is natural that there will be some desire on her part to differentiate herself and to test the limits.

Let’s look at the background here. Is she getting enough sleep? There’s a whole world of poor behavior triggered by lack of sleep, overstimulation, lack of fresh air  and exercise, and poor diet, too high in processed foods, etc. Read the rest of this entry →

Apr 28 2011

Peeing on the Floor and Scary Movies–Bad Dad?

By at 2:30 pm

My daughter asked if she would be allowed to kill the cow.

Ronia’s first parent conference was ideal from a parenting point of view: her teachers told us she should keep doing what she is doing! She was, of course, perfect.

But perfection is hard to sustain, and Ronia did not merely keep doing what she was doing. She added floor peeing in protest to her repertoire in between her fall and spring conferences. Apparently the toilet was not to her standards of cleanliness, she is amazingly fastidious for a hippie child with a slacker dad, though she apparently has inherited my love of the performative gesture.

When confronted about peeing inches away from a toilet, she recounted how earlier that (morning? week? lifetime? time is fuzzy with a 3-year-old) “my dad was mad when I peed in his bed.” Her teacher, to her endless credit, responded “I think I’d be mad if you peed in my bed.” She made clear she was not telling the story as a criticism of me, but I still felt bad. I had revealed my anger to my child! At her failure to perfectly toilet train! So much so she had told others about it! I am such a wuss.

As the conference unfolded in a brisk 20 minutes, after something about catching Ronia’s acts of defiance, which were subtle but developmentally important for her to have noticed, we came to an actual act of parental malfeasance. I should have saved up my guilt.

I have noted and encouraged Ronia’s morbid tendencies. One day as we walked past a group of workers, one of whom was up in a tree, she said, apparently unconcerned, “I think they’re going to kill him.” Several of her favorite stories feature death, and my all time favorite is when told that her grandparents were going to raise cows for meat, she asked, “Am I going to get to kill the cows?” Her tone was not fearful, but eager. However, Waldorf famously discourages TV use, and apparently one day Ronia was asking if the various stories were going to lead to carnage. Her teachers were a bit disturbed and inquired, at which point Ronia revealed she had just watched a scary movie with her dad. “Something about ghosts?”

Ah yes, Spirited Away, one of my favorites and one I was just a little too eager to show to my child. Even worse, I left her by herself so I could cook dinner. She made two-thirds through the movie then ran in and hugged my legs. “There are monsters!”  she suddenly discovered. The scene was not one of the overtly scary ones (I realized there were several of those to come.) Point taken, and now driven home again all these months later. I let the gentle disapproval wash over me, felt my child’s mother getting angry again. They asked me what other movies Ronia watched and I had to cop to the Princess and the Frog. “The Disney movie?” “The star is from one of my favorite musicals!” I sounded snobbish and self-centered, enforcing my fanboy likes on my child at her detriment.

Next movie night, I thought about how Ronia gets scared of Shadow monsters in Princess and Frog and tried to discourage her from watching it. “I’m not scared of the scary parts!” she protested. I suggested My Neighbor Totoro, the same director of Spirited Away but not as scary. “Oh yeah!” Dinner was cooked, no traumas were inflicted.

Feb 22 2011

Will Our Son Get Into THE Preschool?

By at 2:22 pm

We only applied to one school.

Somewhere along the way I think I began believing that a Jewish education for my child was my entitlement. I believed that listening to the rabbis and committing without reservation to sending my child to day school was enough. The rest would take care of itself.

Then I began the day school application process.

There are about 34 children applying for no more than 18 slots in our community day school. Now I know that by New York standards these are great odds, but New York also has a day school about every 10 blocks. Washington has exactly one.

Fortunately, it’s a wonderful place. After we took the tour we were positively aglow.

Yes! This school embodies who we are as a family! As Jews! Who we want our child to be! Look at how the children love Judaism! Speak Hebrew! Hey! A giant paper boat!

It’s love. But as with all love, the most important question is: will they love us too? Or will it end in heartbreak?

So far we’ve done the application and the screening “playdate.” I tried hard not to stress my son out about the screening, while hinting ever so subtly that this might not be a great day to turn into Mr. Hyde. They kept us apart from the kids—so God only knows what happened in there—but we hoped that our boy had shown them what a bright, loving kid he can be.

Next came the follow-up “observation” at his school. The school only does this when they haven’t gotten enough information, or they suspect that the child was not his “best self” at the screening. I assumed the former—my son can be shy in new settings—but feared the latter.

On Tuesday, we face the final piece of the application process: the parent interview. This is my chance to show that we’re a good fit for the school and an asset to the community. Now, we’re an interdenominational family—my husband’s squarely modern Orthodox while I am an observant Conservative Jew. And we’re nested in an even more interdenominational extended family, where questions of kashrut, Shabbat and even intermarriage need to be handled with sensitivity and grace. So we live and breathe the kind of tolerance, compromise, and commitment to fundamental Jewish values that this pluralistic school embraces.

But will that come through? And more importantly, will it be enough? Or will we find ourselves facing an unplanned public school education and a pieced together Jewish one?

I’ve put all my eggs in this one basket. But it just might be the perfect basket for us.

Ain’t love grand?

Feb 15 2011

No! No! No!

By at 3:26 pm

How often do you say that to your kids? How do you say it to your kids?

How hard is it to stand your ground?  Especially when “everyone else is doing it”?

I bet most parents would admit to having a difficult time disciplining. You have to be very secure in your position. And you need to decide before you say it that you really mean it. You can’t cave in to pressure, manipulation, and “everyone else is doing it.” Even if everyone else really is.

Once, while I was sitting outside on my stoop, very pregnant, my 2-year old child ran into the street. I screamed, “ NO!” and moved as fast as my body would let me. I did not believe in spanking, but I do seem to remember that I “potched” (Yiddish, spanked) that time. It was probably unnecessary, though, as the horror in my voice and face, so different from my customary tone and demeanor, scared the crap out of my kid. Which was precisely the point and the lesson that needed to be learned.

I, too, learned from that early experience. I learned that any time I said “no,” it had to be said as firmly (although not as hysterically) as if I were prohibiting my child from running into the street. “No” had to mean “no” in no uncertain terms.

On this blog, I recently referred to a spoof that our kids had done about our family life. They are not only really terrific people, but they are all hilarious and we spend lots of time laughing together. For our 25th anniversary some years ago, they put together the “Top 11 Septimus Family Top 10 Lists.” They did another one five years later. My husband and I got to know what they really thought.

One of the most revealing lists, because it really helped us hear ourselves and gave us insight into how our kids perceived our parenting style, was the “Top 10 Septimus Parent Reasons for Saying No.” I quote:

1-      It is not appropriate

2-      We are not everyone else’s parents.

3-      We do what we think is right for each kid.

4-      I/We don’t think it’s a good idea.

5-      That is not the way we do things around here.

6-      That is not the ben/bat Torah way (meaning: not religiously consistent with our ideals).

7-      I am not so and so’s mother.

8-      We are not comfortable with the idea.

9-      Because I/ We said so.

10-  No.

I think they got it. I really think they did. And I hope I live long enough to see what their kids write about them.

Jan 20 2011

My Daughter Likes To Look At Photos Of Herself Peeing…Whatever Works

By at 11:28 am

“No More Diapers any more, I’m as happy as can be // I get to wear big kid pants// I’M SO PROUD OF ME!”

So ends A Potty For Me, a fine example of children’s self-help literature. I was in favor of it, because it eschews videos or rewards and emphasizes the child’s own triumphal joy. It also emphasizes the agonizing arc, from peeing in one’s pants to false alarms, to the continued presence of diapers at night, all in a few fold-out pages. The kid even looks a bit like Ronia, especially in the baby flashback scene.

The book did not do the trick on its own, though. We were attempting to simulate the techniques my mother used on me, letting me run free until I wanted to rejoin civilization and its achievements. Of course, my mother raised me in an indigenous Yupik fishing village near the Bering Sea, so there was a lot of free space for me to pee in. Harder to pull off in Philadelphia, or disastrously in a New York City taxi cab or the corner of my sister’s fabulous lower Manhattan apartment, to cite one particularly urologically eventful trip. My dad suggested M & M’s.

Our ability to leave our house was saved when Ronia started preschool. While her excellent summer daycare had required diapers below a certain success rate, the Waldorf school was willing to work with her. Since she was one of the older kids, she apparently started quite a fad for toilet training among her younger admirers. Not a moment to soon, as I was starting to feel her teachers viewed me less of a parent and more of a diaper delivery service. This was the same week she started falling asleep by herself, in one swoop gaining independence over body and psyche.

Just like her literary hero, Ronia was bragging “I don’t NEED diapers anymore! I get to wear underwear, like Auntie!” In spite of my best efforts, she did demand a reward: looking at pictures of herself peeing. She would announce that she had to pee in the night, and I was thrilled since she was sleeping in my bed. Suddenly she did not need to be accompanied by a diaper bag bigger and heavier than her. I did not have to do laundry every day, which I had done almost every day of her life to that point, since she used cloth diapers.

But then, she did some traveling over winter break and the disruption seemed to make her lose interest. “You got so mad at me!” she would recount. “I don’t want to because I am having a hard time peeing in the potty.”  I am trying not to panic, afraid of her regressing. She is doing fine at school, even coming home in her original clothes most days. She always knows when she has to poop, mercifully. And she likes her cartoon character toilet lid.

Finally, I resorted to telling her, “It’s later now” when she would say that she wanted to pee “later.” And it actually worked! Like so many things in parenting, this is a process but every one comes through. So we will all keep trying, and wiping up.

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