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Archive for December, 2011

The Tender Touch: The Value of Parental Love

The way we handle our children physically is crucial to their developing self-esteem. We convey our children’s inestimable value through the ways we touch. As important as words are over time, the way we are with them from the beginning matters more than what we say.

In addition to the value of a loving touch, we parent best when we stay emotionally available and warm with our children. When we are able to sustain this availability as a constant through our “parental tone”–through feeding, bathing, dressing (when they are babies), meals, limit settings, awakenings and bedtime for older children–it helps us stay responsive to our children’s cues. That’s why it’s best to pick up those crying babies in the first six months of life and see what the problem might be, no matter how many times you have done it before. Or to put your arm around the pouting toddler and say, “I’m right here–what do you need?” If you are lucky enough to figure it out, the baby or toddler will respond instantly, and if you’re not, at least you’ve shared a good, if noisy, cuddle in the meantime. There is no harm in showing him you are there for him and you care enough to try.

The Need to Feel Secure

The need to feel secure is a serious matter when children are out of their parents’ care.  Their emotional cues are the key to understanding what can help them in being comfortable and appropriately dependent.  From thumb-sucking and pacifiers to “loveys and softies,” children must be allowed to discover and use the props that help them to comfort themselves and manage stress, especially when parents are absent.  That children can use these props and tactics is a testament to their parents’ success in helping them to cope with life’s discomforts and uncertainties.

These objects are transitional.  As children grow in their capacities to adapt to and manage change and troublesome emotions, they will give them up on their own.  I advise parents not to take them away, especially during these transitions.  On the contrary.  Keep them in good repair!  I have seen blankets and toys that were rags and shadows of their former selves, glues, patched, and re-stitched, still providing soothing magic.

Thumb-sucking into the second year can cause some tooth disruption if it is especially intense and prolonged.  Pacifiers are kinder to the mouth and teeth because they distribute sucking pressure more evenly throughout the mouth.  By the first birthday, the need for non-nutritive sucking usually starts to diminish, so that by 18 months, walking and talking are picking up the self-stimulation slack.  Comforting should be spread out over rocking, cuddling, softies, etc., lessening the appetite for sucking.

Warm Winter Wishes Craft

This special homemade photo gift is sure to warm hearts this winter! Create one for a special someone or make many to give as gifts to family & friends.

What you need:

  • Sheets of colored paper or craft foam
  • Ribbon or small adhesive magnets
  • Small photo(s) of your family or child
  • Glue stick
  • Child-safe scissors
  • Washable markers
  • Pencil
  • Single hole punch
  • Decorative “winter” craft accessories of your choice


What to do:

  • Use a pencil to trace your child’s hand on a sheet of paper or craft foam. Trace each finger individually or around their four fingers together and thumb separately to make a mitten shape.
  •  Carefully cut out the hand or mitten shape, and then trim your photo to fit in the “palm” of the cutout. Glue the photo in place.
  •  Here’s the fun part! Encourage your little one to get creative with washable markers and “winter” craft accessories to add their own decorative touch!
  •  When your child is happy with their masterpiece, either punch a hole in the top and tie a ribbon through it for hanging or attach small adhesive magnets to the back for hanging on the refrigerator.


*An adult should oversee all activities.  Activities may not be appropriate for all ages.

Temper Tantrums: The Parental Armageddon

It’s a universally recognizable scenario which qualifies as the Armageddon of parenthood. A red face; ear piercing, soul scratching, vocal cord hemorrhaging screams and body thrashing – all characteristics of the temper tantrum. As a father of four, and grandfather, I’ve seen hundreds of temper tantrums. Each and every one has left me feeling more or less spent, not to mention saddened as a parent. Where do they come from and what can be done about them? During the holiday season, when they tend to peak, it seems timely to review what might be helpful.

The most common age for this behavior is between 3 ½ and 4 ½ years – the twelve to eighteen months before they start kindergarten. Tantrums seem to cluster around those moments when your children – and often you – are hungry, tired, scurrying about, running late and/or stressed out. It’s important to remember that they don’t usually ‘come out of nowhere’ – they tend to be a last straw for your child. Developmentally, they occur when children are struggling to manage their bodies (often having just finished toilet training) and their emotions (aggression, frustration).

My colleagues at Yale’s Parenting Center have been looking at temper tantrum management for years and are on the right track from my view point. They have highlighted the single most critical component of the parent/child temper tantrum interaction – the parental tendency to equal the child’s emotional intensity. This is not helpful. Your child is almost completely unaware of the storm he/she’s making, so when you leap in emotionally and physically charged ‘to get your child’s attention and stop this,’ your child ‘reacts’ to your intensity and escalation is the name of the game.

Their advice (with which I concur):

  • Forget punishment and yelling. It could terrify or confuse your child, often has no relevance to their distress given their immature sense of cause and effect, and only briefly satisfies your need to be in control.
  • Stay calm. Count to ten, turn away briefly, bite your lip, and above all – breathe – this way you won’t fuel the fire and it allows you and your child to recover more quickly.
  • Ignore the negative behavior. This de-escalates the tantrum faster than any other single thing a parent can do.
  • Turn your attention to praising the next ‘good thing’ your child does. Be very specific about what you appreciate and why, be sincere in your tone and behavior, and look them in the eye.

After a few weeks of these tactics, you’ll notice the tantruming is less frequent and less severe. One day you’ll look back and say, ‘Wow, it’s been months since the last meltdown.’