Questions from our readers.

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I was in the playroom at our local library with my toddler, when another child, about three years old repeatedly knocked down the block tower my daughter and I were building.  The mother of this child kept asking her not to do this from across the room, but she continued.  What would be the appropriate response?

This is a great question, one we have all faced when interacting with someone else’s child in a public play space. First of all, I would attempt to connect with the child (I love to talk to children so I would probably do this anyway). I would engage her in a conversation about her name, or something that she is playing with. I would ask her if she knew how to build a tower and ask her if she wanted to build a tower with us. Toddlers are known for dumping out baskets of toys and knocking down towers; it can be great fun. They are also capable of learning how to interact with toys in other more creative ways. An adult modeling that behavior goes a long way. 

Finally, if she continued to knock down your child’s tower, I would say in a kind but firm voice, “we don’t want to play that way, we don’t like it when the tower we build gets knocked down." Then suggest, again in a kind voice, that she play with the blocks a little bit away from your tower.


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Lately, my three-and-a-half-year-old struggles to put on her coat and leave the house for nursery school, nothing seems to be working?

An important question would be, how is her behavior at school?  If all is going well there, this could just be a matter of helping to prepare your child for transitions. Some of us struggle with all transitions, others, just once in a while.  If this reaction is something new for your daughter, it might just be her asserting her independence, something she is actually supposed to do at her age. It just can be soooo challenging!

Here are a few suggestions that might de-escalate the tension that comes with trying to get out the door in the morning with a reluctant child.

Make sure your child is getting enough sleep, fatigue often contributes to irritability and being well rested may improve the situation.

Try to leave enough time for a smooth departure. (I know, easier said than done!)  I remember my pediatrician, Dr. Martha Wagner, explaining to me that when little children feel rushed, they interpret it as a form of rejection. And in my experience, that makes sense… no one likes to hear the following: hurry up and eat your breakfast, hurry up and brush your teeth, hurry up and use the bathroom, etc.

Finally, do a little planning the night before.  Ask your child about that morning’s departure, if it didn’t go smoothly.  Tell them in a kind and firm voice that tomorrow things need to go differently. Again, state in a kind and firm voice that they are going to go to school and mention where you yourself need to be in the morning. Ask them if they have any ideas about what would make leaving home easier and suggest things like bringing a special book to share at school, or a special photograph that they could keep in their cubby. Conversations like this can be helpful for interrupting what has become a pattern. 

Readers, please share with us your success with morning routines, we would love to hear from you!


My four-year-old child was bitten at school, now what?

While it is easy to say that biting goes with the territory of young children, it doesn't mean it isn't a scary and violent event for everyone involved. The father posing the questions was upset and wanted to know what he should do. Should he call the school? Should he call the parents of the biter? Should he take a photograph of his child's arm where he was bitten? All legitimate questions.

Before I could answer this parent's question, I had several questions for him. What was the age of the biter? Did his son know the child very well? Did the bite break the skin? Was his son able to describe the events leading up to the bite?

In my experience, one child biting another child is often a one-off experience. It is important to investigate the incident, comfort the bitten child and try to ascertain why the biter acted out in this way, as well as inform both sets of parents. Determining why a child acts out, though not always possible, is always important and it is especially important when others safety is at stake. Does the child have language? Is he or she tired, hungry, frustrated, or stressed? These are just a few of the factors that impact impulse control and may be at play when a child bites.

In this case, in the four-year old's telling, the other boy said to him, "Arrr, I'm a pirate" and bit him. The child who was bitten did not tell the teacher and continued to play with him without further incident.

My advice to the father was to contact his child's teacher-photograph optional- so that the teacher was aware of the incident. This is important in case it happens again. When a child repeatedly bites, the situation is more complicated and can only be handled by the school with the involvement of the biter's parents.


My four year old recently received an invitation to a birthday party that included information about where the child was registered for birthday gifts.  What do you think of this practice?

I will start with gift giving in general. I have always welcomed the opportunity for my children to visit a toy store and be there thinking of what someone else might like. As a matter of fact, we usually did some planning prior to the store visit. I would remind them that the purpose of the visit was to buy a gift for someone else, not them.  Establishing, before getting to the store that they would not be picking out something for themselves was in itself a great lesson in setting expectations and giving them practice exercising some self-control. That said, we certainly did make some trips for toys for them over the years as well, but that’s another story.

In addition to the discussion about what we wouldn’t be buying, we did a little planning about what we thought the child might like. What were their special interests? Was there something they frequently played with on visits to our house that they didn’t have at their house? And equally important was a discussion about what we might “make ourselves” that the child would like that didn’t involve a trip to a store.

I love gift giving in that it provides this wonderful opportunity to reflect on a friend or family member so that the gift is something for them, but feels like a gift to us as well. It seems like a lot of that is lost when a gift is suggested on a registry.

On the other hand that position doesn’t take into consideration a few factors that are in play in the lives of today’s families. Many parents today are on complete overload as they manage not just their lives (work, home, family, including their aging parents), but the busy lives of their children. A service that shortens shopping time and streamlines gift selection is definitely attractive.  Sometimes convenience trumps everything else. 

While I mostly give wedding and shower gifts that I choose outside of a registry, I do sometimes take advantage of the convenience of a registry. This is especially true when attending out-of-town weddings that involve travel arrangements; airline tickets, hotel accommodation etc. Or for that couple that I don’t know well: visit website, stroll down the list, choose, pay, done.

So while gift giving as a thoughtful activity for all involved is ideal, the gift registry has its place in our busy lives.



My four-year-old boy has become very blunt in expressing his likes and dislikes. He says things like “I like Nana better than Papa” and “ Maddie, I like your picture better than Michael’s.” How do I help him to be more sensitive without telling him what to think?

Rather than challenging him while he is expressing his opinion, I would broach the subject in a quiet moment after witnessing one of his negative appraisals. I would mention that it is normal to like someone or the things they do more than someone else, from time to time, but it makes me and others uncomfortable when someone says it in front of the person.  I would explain such strong statements can hurt a person’s feelings. I would then ask the child what they think about that. Do they know what “hurting a person’s feelings means,” or if anyone has ever hurt their feelings?

Without judging your child, you are asking them to consider the feelings of others. You might even ask them how they would feel if someone said that about them, or a picture they have drawn. Four-year-olds are capable of understanding that their words and actions have consequences and this is an excellent example of that.  

Even at age three, many children can be empathetic and begin to understand the “golden rule,”  “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.”

As a nursery school teacher, I would sometimes remind children that if they can’t think of something friendly to say when commenting on another child, it is better not to say anything at all. This response tends to promote a respectful and safe place for everyone.

My four-year-old daughter asked a friend of mine who had recently given birth, how the baby got out of her tummy? We were both speechless and quickly changed the subject.  What would have been an appropriate response?

For every parent and teacher of a curious four-year-old (and they all are), there is the daily challenge of how much is too much information? While there may be a myriad of appropriate replies, one that would easily satisfy the curiosity of most four-year-olds goes something like this: "What a great question. The doctor who takes care of the mommy and the baby figures how to get the baby out." If a child persists and wants to know what are the ways, you can volunteer that the mommy has a special place on her body where there is a passage for the baby to come out. It isn’t necessary to explore the C-section option.

What is necessary is that the child feels that they can ask questions and that parents are willing to find a satisfactory answer. They should not be made to feel guilty or embarrassed, or that any topic is off limits.




My three and a half-year-old child has started using a mild expletive around the house when she drops something, or her block building tumbles down. We rarely use swear words and want to discourage this kind of language What do you think?

It is entirely normal for children to explore language, especially words that I include in the “strong “ language category. My definition of “strong” includes words that are emotionally charged or taboo.  And not just the four-letter words, but works like “hate” and expressions such as “shut up.” It sounds like a four-letter word muttered after something happens that your child doesn’t like, indicates her attention to the correct usage, but not the proper decorum.

While the source of this vocabulary may or may not be relevant, the feedback your child receives is. The conversation should begin with a neutrally asked “what does that word mean and where did you learn it?”  Children are usually very forthcoming when they are not being criticized. Again, in a neutral voice, a parent can explain that a better word to use might be “oops” or “sugar.” You can even make a silly game naming scenarios when you might say “oops.”  I put my shirt on upside down…. Oops!  I tried to eat my soup with a fork…  Oops! 

A child your daughter’s age, is beginning to understand that actions have consequences. It is important to mention that you don’t like that word and that its use makes you and others feel uncomfortable. Your nonchalant attitude about this language and matter of fact delivery about its use should help to minimize its use in the future for attention or button pushing.

Children are imitators, and your modeling of acceptable alternatives will go a long way.