Biting and Hitting the Hand that Feeds

biting teeth
biting teeth

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Dear Mr. Dad: Our son just turned one and, almost like flipping a switch, he went from the sweetest, happiest little guy to smacking and biting. It’s bad enough when it happens at home, but my husband and I are beyond embarrassed when he attacks friends or strangers. Is it normal for babies to turn mean like this? Normal or not, how can we get it to stop?

A: No one knows exactly why, but right around their first birthday, most babies go through a stage that involves hitting and/or biting everything and everyone in sight. So, yes, biting and hitting are normal, and it’s unlikely that he’s “turning mean.” However, as you said, whether it’s normal or not, this behavior needs to stop. Before you can do anything about the behavior, though, you need to figure out what’s behind it.

According to child development experts, there are lots of possible explanations. Your baby may be hitting or biting because: [Read more…]

Ready to Roll(er Coaster)?

Dear Mr. Dad: My husband and I are going to Orlando to visit some theme parks with our kids, ages 4 and 8. We’re all super excited, but I’m worried about how to make sure the kids have a good time and the adults still feel that we’ve had a vacation. Any suggestions?

A: I am so jealous. My 12-year old daughter and I love roller coasters and for years we’ve been talking about doing an extended coaster tour. It’ll happen one of these days. But let’s get back to you. Going to amusement parks with kids as young as yours and still having fun yourself will be challenging. But it’s definitely possible. Here are some ideas that will help.

  • Go online before you get in line. Make an adults-only visit to each park’s website. Find out their hours, age- and height restrictions, ride closures, whether you can bring in outside food, whether they have lockers, and so on. Most sites have recommendations for families with young children. Once you’ve mastered all that, go back and visit the sites with the kids—but show them only the things that they’ll actually be able to do. There’s no sense getting them excited about rides they can’t go on. Then, have them put together a list of their favorites.
  • While you’re online, follow the parks on social media (so you can get money-saving discounts and followers-only access) and download the apps for each park you’re planning to visit. Besides including maps of the park—complete with where all the bathrooms are—the apps usually include schedules for shows and photo ops with characters, restaurant menus, and more.
  • Plan your meals. To get your money’s worth, you’re going to want to stay at the park all day, and you’ll need to eat. Of course, it’s more convenient to buy all your meals and snacks in the park. These days your food options go way beyond burgers, fries, and fried donuts. Most now offer all sorts of ethnic options, and you’ll almost always be able to find fruit, veggies, and other healthy foods. If money is an issue, bring as much food as you’re allowed to (details will be on the park’s website).
  • Plan your day. The kids (and maybe you) will probably need some breaks during the day. If you’re staying at a nearby hotel, consider going back for a nap and a dip in the pool. Then hit the park again. If not, all the parks have air-conditioned theaters that are great rest spots.
  • Stay cool. Everyone needs a hat, plenty of sunscreen, and a water bottle. No exceptions. According to, “more visitors suffer from sunburn, rashes, heat exhaustion and heatstroke than all other injuries put together.”
  • Start really, really early. If you get to the park before it opens, you can dash to the most popular rides before the lines start getting crazy.
  • Think safety. If your child has a tendency to disappear into crowds, consider a wrist bungee or harness. A lot of kids (and adults) find them horribly embarrassing, so the mere threat of using one might be enough to keep the kids nearby. You might also consider one of the many GPS trackers; some can be worn on the wrist, others attached to the kids’ clothing.
  • Split up. If you and your husband want to go on adult rides, think about having one of you stay with the kids while the other goes in the single-rider lines, which are almost always shorter. Then switch.
  • Remember, you’re on vacation. Relax and try to see the parks—and the world—through your children’s eyes.

Volunteering: It’s Not Just About You Anymore

via flickr
via flickr

via flickr

Dear Mr. Dad: I have to admit that my wife and I have been a bit self-centered in our adult lives, focusing on our work, earning money, and supporting the family. We’ve done quite well financially and we’ve both decided that we should start giving something back to our community. We want to get our kids involved too, but they’re pretty young—only 5 and 7. Honestly, I don’t even know where to start. Are the kids too young? And what’s the best way get going?

A: Your kids are definitely not too young to volunteer in their community. In fact, there’s no such thing as too young. Plenty of people bring babies to visit nursing-home residents or shut-ins, and preschoolers and early elementary school kids often go on field trips to the same places to sing holiday songs , put on a play, or just draw pictures. Bringing a smile to the face of people who don’t have a lot of joy in their lives is a wonderful gift. Middle schoolers can volunteer to read to a blind person or tutor kids their own age in reading and math. Teens can coach inner-city sports teams or build houses with Habitat for Humanity. Ideally, volunteering is a selfless act—you do it to help someone else, not because you’ll profit from it. But thinking way into the future, volunteer work looks very good on college and job applications.

Doing things as simple as serving meals at a local homeless shelter (or, when the kids are older, delivering meals on wheels) shows your children that you’re walking the walk instead of just talking the talk. Of course volunteering often gives kids some insight into just how lucky they are. It can also provide opportunities for them to learn about problem solving and cooperation, hone new skills, and discover talents, interests, and skills they never know they had. Perhaps most importantly, it teaches them to be more tolerant of people they might never come in contact otherwise—people from different cultures, ethnicities, education levels, and socio-economic status. At the end of a day (or even just a few hours) of volunteering, you’ll discover that your family has benefitted as much as your community has—though in very different ways.

As you consider which of the millions of opportunities to get your family involved in, here are a few ideas to keep in mind:

[Read more…]

Is He Gay? Boys Will Be Boys—or Will They?

Dear Mr. Dad: I’m worried about my eight-year-old son. He loves sports and does a lot of “boy” things, but sometimes I find him playing with dolls. Does this mean he’s gay? Is there a way to tell this early on? And if he is gay, what should we do?

A: Whew, that’s a lot of questions, so let’s dive right in. Boys play with dolls all the time—they’re just named Batman, the Hulk, and Captain America. But since you’re worried about it, I’m assuming you mean that your son is playing with Barbies. Does that mean he’s gay? Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer. Plenty of heterosexual men occasionally played with dolls (girly ones) when they were kids. At the same time, studies of women conducted by Kelley Drummond and of men conducted by J. Michael Bailey and Kenneth J. Zucker have found that those who engaged in “gender nonconforming” play as children were more likely as adults to identify as gay or lesbian.

There are two important things to keep in mind. First, we’re not talking about occasional cross-gender play, which is incredibly common—and perfectly normal. The gay and lesbian adults in these studies were almost always bucking the stereotypes as kids. Second, the operative phrase here is “more likely.” In other words, while cross-gender play may be an indicator of homosexuality, it is by no means 100% accurate. Plenty of boys who play with dolls and girls who play hockey are heterosexual—and plenty of boys who play with trucks and girls who wear frilly dresses and have tea parties grow up to be gay.

With Bruce Jenner publicly (and bravely) announcing that he’s really a woman, I’ve heard from a lot of parents who are worried about “gender dysphoria”—that their son might actually become their daughter or vice versa. Again, while play may be an indicator, what’s more predictive is a child who refuses to acknowledge his or her biological sex, refuses to wear clothes associated with their sex or to play with opposite-sex children, and wants to go to the bathroom the way opposite sex people do, according to Britain’s National Health Service. But it’s nowhere near 100% accurate. Bailey and Zucker found that the majority of children who seem to have gender dysphoria grow out of it by adulthood. As a preschooler, my oldest daughter (now 25 and heterosexual) spent 18 months wearing pants and a cute hat and insisting that she was Oliver Twist—and refusing to answer to any other name. (She also insisted on calling me Mr. Bumble.)

Bottom line, it’s pretty unlikely that your son is gay. But either way, does it really matter? There’s nothing you can do about it anyway—if he’s gay, you’ll find out about it sooner or later, if not, you’ll find out about that too. If he is, you have two options: You could give him your unconditional support, understanding, and love. Or you could make him feel rejected and unloved. Choose option A. Please.

In an article in the journal Pediatrics, Caitlin Ryan and her colleagues found that “lesbian, gay, and bisexual young adults who reported higher levels of family rejection during adolescence,” were more likely to be bullied in school. Worse yet, they were 8 times more likely to have attempted suicide, 6 times more likely to suffer from depression, 3 times more likely to use illegal drugs or have unprotected sex.

In the end, your child’s sexuality is his business. Watch and learn. In the meantime, love him. He’s your son and always will be.

Morning Sickness: On the Job All Day Long

Mr. Dad: My girlfriend is about a month pregnant—her second baby but my first. I’m concerned because she’s nauseated and vomiting all day long. She calls it “morning sickness” and says she had the same thing with her first baby and that it’s normal. But doesn’t the name imply that the problems should be limited to the morning? Either way, what can I do to help?

A: Given that your girlfriend has been through this before and says it’s normal, take her word for it. As the pregnancy develops you’ll have plenty of other things to worry about, so let this one go.

The name “morning sickness” is a little catchier—but less accurate—than “all day long sickness,. As you’ve noticed, the heartburn, queasiness and throwing up are by no means limited to the actual morning. Between half and 85% of pregnant women get morning sickness but no one’s quite sure what causes it. Some researchers believe that it’s the pregnant woman’s reaction to changing hormone levels, in particular human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), which is produced by the placenta and is the same stuff that’s picked up by home pregnancy kits. Many women with morning sickness also have food aversions, especially to eggs, fish, meat, and poultry—all of which can go bad quickly and may carry disease. That has led a number of researchers, including Samuel Flaxman, Margie Profet, and Paul Sherman to speculate that morning sickness is the body’s way of protecting the baby-to-be from food-borne substances that could cause a miscarriage or birth defects.

[Read more…]

Long-Distance Parenting

Dear Mr. Dad: My ex and I share custody of our son (age 6) but she recently moved a few hundred miles away so I sometimes don’t get to see him for a few weeks. In between, I really miss him and I worry that he’ll forget who I am or won’t want to see me when we finally get together. I sometimes feel like giving up. How can I stay connected when we’re apart for so long?

A:  Great question, one that also applies to single moms and anyone else who has to spend extended periods of time away from their children (military servicemembers, for example). As hard as those separations are, the good news is that not being together physically doesn’t mean that you can’t be together emotionally. The even better news is that while it’s not easy to keep those bonds strong while you’re away from your son, you can—and do—play an important role in his life. And it’s vital to both of you that you not give up. Here are some steps you can take to stay involved.
[Read more…]