Our readers asked questions


here are the doctor's replies

May 05, 1991

We asked readers to let us know their questions about parenting so we could present them to Dr. T. Berry Brazelton for his expert advice. Here are some of the questions (in condensed form) and Dr. Brazelton's answers:

Q: My children are 2 1/2 , 4 and 8, and the two younger children fight a lot and the 2 1/2 -year-old is totally out of control. What is the best way to discipline children?

A: As far as the sibling rivalry is concerned, the best thing for a mother to do is stay out of their rivalry and let them deal with it themselves.

With discipline, pull back and ask yourself, "Am I respecting this child's need for autonomy?" For a 2 1/2 -year-old, you should save discipline for what's really important. Discipline is the second most critical thing you can offer your children. (Love is the first.)

Discipline is the opportunity to teach kids where limits are. It's very different from punishment. Some methods of discipline are isolation or timeouts, for whatever brief period it may take just to break the cycle of behavior.

Q: My grandson, who will be 8 next month, has started stealing money. His parents are divorced, he goes to a private school, lives with his father and has taken a good deal of money from his mother.

A: Stealing is an appropriate and almost inevitable behavior for a 4- or 5-year-old, but not an 8-year-old. This child is crying for help. It sounds like he's been too good through the crisis of divorce and is now paying the price. You may need [professional] help. He needs to know that someone is listening to him.

Q: We are weaning our 14-month-old off the bottle and she is only getting 12 to 15 ounces of milk from a cup, compared to the more than 24 ounces she was getting from the bottle. Is that enough?

A: That's enough milk; I wouldn't worry so much about the amount. But if she needs the bottle, why give up the bottle completely at this age? If she cares about it, give it to her at nap and bedtime, although not in the bed with her, because that's bad for her teeth.

When it does come time to wean her, tie the bottle to a "lovey" [an object like a blanket or stuffed animal that she is especially attached to], and give it to her that way for a while. Then take

the bottle away from the lovey and just give her the lovey, and she'll be perfectly happy.

Q: My daughter has a cloth diaper that she sleeps with and carries around the house. When I attempt to limit it to the crib, she screams until I take it out.

A: It's symbolic of you, the mother, and it's very important. I think it's neat for a child to have a lovey like that, because it is reminiscent of a care-giver.

I'm always delighted to see that. For instance, in the hospital or in a stress period, when a child has a lovey, they can manage stress, they can manage separation in a very different way than if they haven't any kind of lovey. So I'm not sure why it bothers this mother so much. She feels like it's a sign of failure on her part, but I feel quite the opposite.

Q: What's the appropriate age for a child to give up a lovey?

A: Greek men never give them up, they carry worry beads in their pockets all their lives. Most of us have something we fall back on; my wife fingers this Mayan bead she wears all day long. I don't know, I don't have a limit. I think what a parent's job should be is to help children graduate from one inappropriate lovey to an appropriate one, so they don't have to feel embarrassed about it.

Q: How can I stop my 6-year-old from sucking his thumb?

A: Well, I don't feel very strongly about it, to tell you the truth. I know the dentists do. But I would do it entirely with the cooperation of the 6-year-old. I'd figure out something with the 6-year-old that you think might work and say, "Now I'm going to leave it pretty much up to you. . . . I'm not going to put you under pressure." Then I'd go out with him and buy some appropriate object to try to substitute, and let him make the decision.

Q: What can be done for a stubborn, hard-headed child who will not do exactly as told?

A: I don't like to answer questions that aren't attached to ages; you do something different for each age. My general answer is to value the strength of the child. . . . If she won't do exactly what she's told, good for her. . . . You're saving a lot of rebellion in adolescence if you can admire and accept this trait now.

Q: What should you do when your 3-year-old starts saying cuss words?

A: Expect it. I don't think you can ignore it, but you sure can expect it. And remember if you take him too seriously, you're going to fix it as an issue. All children experiment with words that disturb you and behavior that disturbs you, and this is part of their learning where the limits are.

It doesn't mean you have to accept it. But you don't need to go overboard either.

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