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Oct 17 2011

Ask Bubbe: My Child, the Genius

By at 9:58 am

Dear Bubbe,

My 2.5-year-old son is really developmentally ahead of everyone else — talking, walking, teething, clever observations. Does that mean he’ll be a genius for life? Seriously, though, what should I do to keep him challenged and intellectually stimulated?


Dear Jodie,

So it’s hard for me to separate the parental pride from the objective fact, but if you say he is more advanced than his peers, I believe you.

There is no doubt that some little ones are really bright sparks, whether physically or behaviorally, way ahead of their peers or even siblings. And we are often a bit conflicted as to what to do with this. We all want normal, happy children who fit in, who do well enough in learning, and who are pleasant, nice, kind people. But we don’t always get what we want.

I don’t need to tell you that people come in an endless spectrum of ability and personality, and some kids can be real challenges. “Severely gifted” children are an example here; the fear is that the child may become arrogant and unbearable or won’t have any friends. What do you do with a child who seems to display innate talent, whether in math or music,  drawing or athleticism?

If you advance them to their standard, they will be mixing it with the “big boys,” literally, and that can create social dislocation. If you don’t advance, then you risk the child becoming bored and disruptive. Read the rest of this entry →

Aug 29 2011

Ask Bubbe: Itchy Scalps

By at 11:19 am

Dear Bubbe,

Any advice for an extremely itchy, lice-free scalp?


Hi Chani,

This question is for Dr. Bubbe I see! Hmm, lice-free itchy scalp; does this mean there was a lice problem which has been treated? Some treatments can dry out and irritate the scalp. Now the less irritant treatments are based on using hair conditioner applied thickly to smother the lice rather than insecticide to nuke them.

Child or adult? Is this itchy scalp incarcerated by a sheitel in the hot weather? Mild shampoo, lemon juice or apple cider vinegar rinse and maybe a light loosely woven snood or scarf may help until the weather cools.

Generally dry skins and scalps are also itchy, so finding the right shampoo is important. Sometimes it is the sodium laureth sulfate foaming additive which can trigger itch so try another brand. T-gel shampoo by Neutrogena with coal tar derivatives can help with an irritated scalp. And if there is really a lot of irritation,  a cortisone-containing lotion can be used for a few days to settle it before using a really mild shampoo.

Have a good look for scaling, flakiness, redness, or other abnormalities.  Fungal infections aren’t rare in kids and need specific antifungal treatment.  Sometimes a trigger can set up an itch but scratching will cause further irritation, skin can be damaged, and the more you scratch, the more you itch, etc. A gentle acidifying rinse–like dilute apple cider vinegar 1:4 in warm water–will give rapid relief. Other helpful home remedies include chamomile and rosemary infusion as a rinse. Direct application of lemon juiceis another thing to try.

Ok, so there a few things to try but I personally am a fan of the T-gel.

If these simple ideas don’t help, see your doctor as there are other conditions in adults which can cause a dry itchy scalp such as low functioning thyroid gland (hypothyroidism) usually in context of other symptoms.

But it’s more likely to be something simple so don’t panic.

Good luck!


Aug 11 2011

We Know You Have Questions, So Ask Bubbe

By at 3:04 pm

Just a pleasant reminder that our bubbe-in-residence Shyrla Pakula is ready to answer any and all of your parenting questions. So far she’s taken on everything from biting, kissing, sleeping, and pooping to cheesecake, and like all Jewish bubbes, she’s got plenty more to say.

So don’t be shy–send your questions to and you’ll get some sound advice, free of charge!

Jul 29 2011

Ask Bubbe: A Baby with a Biting Problem

By at 1:53 pm

Dear Bubbie,

My wonderful, adorable grandson is 16 months old. He was just in for a 12 day visit from LA. He has started biting his mom and dad when he puts his head on their shoulder or leg–not always but often. It seems to be a sign of affection for him as he smiles broadly when he does it. He is still getting some side and back teeth, so I thought it might be teething. He doesn’t seem to do it with anyone else. They say “no!” firmly and put him down for a minute, but that doesn’t seem to stop him.

His mom had been away for one week and then two weeks later, he came east and has been alternating between bubbie’s house, savta’s house, and an aunt’s house–his parents have been with him the whole trip back east, except for a wedding one evening.

Any suggestions.


Bubbie Sue

Hi Susan,

The first thing I note is all the change which has been taking place in the last few weeks; this will certainly destabilize a small child and could well lead to all sorts of stress-related behaviors.

Babies and toddlers bite for many reasons–curiosity, teething discomfort, frustration, power-seeking, and stress. Certainly a 16-month-old is in the throes of teething. The molars and those tricky canines (eye-teeth) can cause him pain and make him likely to want to chomp onto something for relief; but this sort of ‘smiling bite’ sounds more like a psychological rather than physiological reason. Read the rest of this entry →

Jul 21 2011

Ask Bubbe: Too Young to Smooch?

By at 11:14 am

Dear Bubbe,

At friend’s for Shabbat lunch, my 6-year-old daughter played with my friend’s 6-year-old son. They pretended to marry & kissed. Now what? Should I make a big deal? It was innocent (enough) but not something I am comfortable with. Or is it normal growing up stuff?


Hi Gail,

So were there 2 witnesses and a ring? And were they alone afterwards? And are they adults? No, wait! They’re 6. Whew! Close call.

Nothing to worry about, rather sweet actually. If they were playing ‘cops and robbers’ or ‘cowboys and Indians’ or whatever, you wouldn’t worry either, unless one clobbered the other or someone wasn’t having fun. Role play is normal and natural, this is age-appropriate. Kids reflect the values around them. In fact, if you observe their play you can sometimes see a reflection of yourself, and find yourself wondering, ‘wow, do I really say things like that?’

So ‘getting married’ and having a little kiss is OK. This is not sexualised play with one child molesting another, which would be a serious concern. Even playing ‘doctors and nurses’ is pretty harmless unless it isn’t, ie if one child is taking advantage of the other and if the play is clearly sexualised (in which case the kids would not generally be doing it in front of an adult observer so you may never know it happened anyway unless your child tells you later.).

By the way, if the children are over bat- and bar-mitzvah, a ‘mock wedding’ can really be a serious matter. I know of one case where the marriage, which took place at a summer camp as part of the entertainment, really was according to Jewish law and the kids had to have a get (Jewish divorce) afterwards, which means, in theory, the girl can’t marry a Kohen (priest); although common sense usually prevails, you have to be careful. My great-grandfather married his first wife when he was 13 and she was 12, in the 1870’s in Tzefat, Israel. They had 8 children, she died, he remarried, had 6 children, one of whom was my grandfather. Interesting, no?

But I digress. 2 little kids having fun–nothing to worry about. But get them running around in the fresh air too.


Jul 11 2011

Ask Bubbe: Why is My Toddler Sleeping with Me?

By at 11:29 am

Dear Bubbe,

I have a 21-month old daughter. She is usually a great sleeper at night. Though lately she’s been waking up in the middle of the night and wanting to get into bed with us. It started when she was sick so we acquiesced. Though now she’s all better and she’s still getting up! We let her cry one night for an hour and in the end she still came into bed with us. Help!


Dear Debbie,

OK, re: the sleeping–I probably won’t be telling you anything you don’t know here. I assume that she has her own room and won’t be disturbing other siblings? And that she has had a regular bedtime, around 7 pm, and has been asleep until this waking.

First principles:  this is a behaviour which you wish to change. It takes up to 2 weeks to extinguish and reset behaviours, and consistency is the key.

So when Cuddles comes to your room and climbs into your bed (and I imagine, starts to kick you both out of bed as all toddlers do), soothe her, hug her, and IMMEDIATELY return her to her crib or bed. If she cries, think about what she wants: Grade A treatment, i.e.  in this case, to return to your bed. You should not offer her nothing at all and leave her to cry in the dark, feeling abandoned. You should offer her Grade B treatment. Cuddle her, soothe her, explain to her that you love her but she has to stay in her bed, and then put her back to bed and leave the room, saying, “See you in the morning!” Read the rest of this entry →

Jun 30 2011

Ask Bubbe: My Toddler Won’t Use the Potty

By at 9:47 am

Dear Bubbe,

My toddler son (2 1/2) adamantly refuses to wear underwear. He’s gotten to the point that  he only sits on the potty after he has already eliminated in the diaper. He has properly used the potty in the past and we praised his use and the hand washing afterwards. But he no longer stalls going to bed by requesting to sit on the potty nor does he say “Yes!” when we ask if he wants to sit on one.

When should I worry? What should I do? We are going to stay with my MIL over the 4th of July holiday & she has very strong opinions – I really don’t want her to pressure her son &/or my son on this subject (or any others, but that would be a second post…)


Dear Aviva,

I will start from the worst case toiletting scenario and work backward to normal stuff. The worst is the child who, for one reason or another, holds back from pooping at all, then passes a large, hard stool which causes pain and spasm to his anus, after which he refuses to poop, because it hurts, or is even unable to because of the spasm, and the whole sorry cycle escalates until the whole family ends up dancing around this poor child, while he dances around in pain and holding his sphincter; and then the liquid stool leaks out past the impacted stool, and the child is constantly soiled, and the nursery school kids mock him and you end up having to see a pediatrician, a pediatric gastroenterologist, and a psychiatrist for 6 months until the situation can be cleared up. This is a nightmare and can have various triggers; toilet training coercion could be one.

So, a 2-and-a-half-year-old who wants to stay in his diapers for a little longer is NORMAL. You can offer him the potty, especially after meals when there is a natural reflex to eliminate, or if you can identify facial expression or body cues that he wishes to do so; you can praise him for using the potty or even just sitting on the potty; you can read him cute little potty training books; you can buy a nice potty chair and let him decorate it or leave it around for him to just chill out on; but if he would just rather not use the potty, then that’s OK. If he is anti-undies, that’s OK too. If you can coax him into underpants with fun characters (Spiderman seemed to be a favorite in my house) then that’s nice, but he will have accidents, and that’s also OK and not a punishable offense and no reason for a geshrei (to yell). If there are too many accidents, he ain’t ready! Pull-ups can be a useful transition from diaper to undies, but we survived without them in the old days.

Some kids are shy about using a potty, but when offered will put on a diaper just to eliminate, and then switch back to underpants. But really, until around 3, I really think there’s no need to be pushy about any of this. I know there are opinions which differ and I know that it is nice if a child is fully trained by day and night by 3, but it’s OK if he’s not, and it isn’t that common anyway. Recent research has shown that 25% kids aren’t trained before 31/2 – 4 years.

Now, as for the Shvigger (mother-in-law); oh, so much to say. I have a shvigger, G-d bless her, and I am a shvigger, and we come in all temperaments. But try practicing this line: “Thank you for your help and advice and your kind concern, but really, it’s not your business.” It worked for me back in the day, and we have maintained a respectful and positive relationship since. If you can’t see yourself doing that, then just tell her that the doctor (ie me) told you about all the terrible things that could happen if the child isn’t ready for potty training. Refer her to paragraph one.

And remember: he won’t go to the chuppah in a diaper!

Send your bubbe questions to

Shyrla Pakula is a doctor, lactation consultant, cookbook writer, Orthodox Jew, former parenting columnist, the mother of seven children, and a grandmother to six. She lives in Melbourne, Australia.


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