Children's excessive touching may be a sign of deprivation

Parent Q & A

September 19, 1999|By T. Berry Brazelton, M.D. | T. Berry Brazelton, M.D.,NEW YORK TIMES SPECIAL FEATURES

Q. I am a kindergarten teacher and would appreciate advice on dealing with children who touch their peers excessively. These children cannot be near other children without touching their hair, clothing and shoes.

The behavior is often harmless, but sometimes it escalates to hitting, pushing and slapping. What causes this behavior? Is it over-stimulation or a deeper problem?

A. I am not sure I can answer your important question without knowing more than you told me. Children who need to touch hungrily (as you describe) are likely to be deprived children who are trying to get to know other children. But the difficulty is that other children sense their hunger and neediness and don't like it.

Maybe you can offer them extra hugging and loving attention when they become intrusive.

Q. My 6-year-old son will only eat bologna, ketchup, hot dogs, apples, chips, cereal, pancakes, a bagel with cream cheese and any kind of sweet treat. I don't allow my children to drink sodas with caffeine or sugar. I permit only skim milk.

Getting my son to eat what I cook is a constant battle. I have tried to refuse to cook separately for him, insisting he will have to go without, but this makes me feel guilty.

He is dead stubborn and will go without instead of eating what I prepare. I'm concerned about his health. He doesn't appear to be suffering and is the picture of health. But this diet can't be good for him, and cooking two meals is driving me up the wall.

I feel that his unwillingness to try new foods directly reflects his unwillingness to try anything new. How can I win this war?

A. I think you have set it up wrong -- as a war. Neither of you can win. He becomes more determined and more rigid. You become angry and defeated. Food and food choice at his age have got to be left to him. You can control the choices, but not whether he complies.

If I were you, I'd get out of the war. From what you list, he has enough proteins and iron, enough fruit and enough milk (if he drinks 16 ounces). Add a multivitamin to cover him and forget it.

Make a simple minimum diet for him of his choices. Don't say a word. Feed the rest of the family without any comment about his eating. He'll be very disappointed not to be the center of attention. Ignore his provocative behavior. I'll bet it won't be long before he'll be eating with the rest of you -- as soon as it's left up to him, and it's not a war.

Q. I am concerned about the amount of time my boys spend playing Nintendo. Please comment.

A. I, too, am worried about the time that children spend in front of our media. Why not put a time limit on how much they can play? Don't buy the upgrades, and they are more likely to tire of the system.

Q. What can I do to help my 10-month-old daughter sleep all night? I feed her well at night and she gets a good bath. Still she requires two 8-ounce bottles at night.

A. Learning to sleep through the night is a step toward independence for the child, and is an issue of separation for the parent. So, it's partly your problem. When she rouses and fusses in light sleep every four hours, she needs to learn how to get herself back down to sleep on her own.

All of us come up to light sleep every three to four hours and must learn to get back down again. Your daughter is used to your giving her a bottle at 2 a.m. and 5 a.m., so she demands it.

She probably doesn't need the milk. She can get that in the daytime. It's hard work to teach her to be independent, but it's worth it.

Questions or comments should be addressed to Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, care of the New York Times Syndication Sales Corp., 122 E. 42nd St., New York, N.Y. 10168. Questions of general interest will be answered in this column; unpublished letters cannot be answered individually.

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