Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Email firstname.lastname@example.org or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.
Dear Care and Feeding,
What is the current policy on allowing young children to urinate in public parks? I let my 3-year-old son pee in a park recently, in a secluded spot among some bushes, and another adult said, “That’s disgusting!” (to her partner, but really for me to overhear). I used to pee in urban parks all the time as a child, but it seems to have gone out of fashion. Plus, this park is overrun by dogs every morning and evening, all of whom urinate wherever they see fit. What’s the difference?
I am prepared to make an official pronouncement on this.
1. If it is reasonably possible to transport your child to a bathroom, you should do so.
2. If it is not reasonably possible to do so in time, they can pee in the bushes.
3. If you see a parent attempting to surreptitiously assist a toddler to pee in the bushes, keep your mouth shut and smile sympathetically if they make eye contact with you.
4. If you feel the urge to tut-tut that parent for their child’s unpredictable bladder, please attend to your own onions, as the French say.
5. If you are a dog, please continue in your personal pursuit of excellence, wherever that may take you.
This is my official pronouncement, which is now the law.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
My daughter won’t sleep! She’s 4½ and she wakes up at I don’t know what time and turns her light on and reads. All. Night. Long. (I’m not sure when she wakes up—anywhere from 3–4 a.m.) At least she doesn’t wake me up, but this can’t be good for her. She is a whiny mess all day when she does this. It’s been about every other day because the next day she’s so tired that she sleeps. What do I do? I talked to her about how she needs sleep. Do I ride it out and see if she stops? Take all the books out of her room at nighttime?
I have a small quiver of options for you, and a large dose of sympathy. I myself was a child who read literally until dawn, and I emerged mostly unscathed. But your daughter obviously needs to break this habit and start sleeping more than every other night.
First, do you have any reason to suspect your daughter is afraid of the dark? It would be best to probe that a touch before zeroing in on the books as a culprit. Keep in mind that a fear of the dark can manifest out of nowhere, even in a child who didn’t worry about it in the least before.
If you are confident that the dark is not Babadook-ing your kid, my first suggestion is indeed to take the books out, just at night, and explain that nighttime is for sleeping, etc., so if we wake up, we should shut our eyes and think about campaign finance reform until we are pulled under by the tendrils of darkness and know no more. Something cheerful like that!
The next step is to replace her lamp or overhead bulb with a small plug-in night light, just for bedtime. Talk to her about it as you do so, and have her help you pick out the night light.
Should this one-two punch not work, my nuclear option is to ask her pediatrician about taking .5 milligrams of melatonin a half-hour before lights out. It’s more a going-to-bed aid, but my personal experience suggests it also makes night waking less common. If they think it’s overkill, ask for a better idea. But a teeny dose of melatonin for a few nights can have a marvelous impact on setting a new going-to-sleep-and-staying-there habit for a kid, which, as you know, is half the battle.
May your daughter soon sleep the sleep of the just.
Dear Care and Feeding,
I need some advice on dealing with unwanted touching of my child. I am blessed with a very cute 7-month-old who has gorgeous cheeks. Friends, acquaintances, distant family, strangers in the street keep poking his chest and grabbing his cheeks. This makes me very uncomfortable. Not because I have any phobias, but I firmly believe in his right to decide about his body, and respect for personal boundaries, regardless of age.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mind physical play, as long as they bother to spend five minutes to establish a relationship and pay attention to what the child actually enjoys. Surprisingly few people do, though. I feel it is my job to protect him. I don’t want to overreact and cue him into crying. But if I just stand there with a fake smile, am I teaching him to accept being touched without consent by strangers? Any tips as to what to do or say? Sometimes I feel like pinching their effing cheeks to see how they like it.
I think you have two distinct categories of Grabby Gabbys here, with two distinct responses:
• When it’s strangers (firmly): “Please don’t touch my baby.”
• Friends or acquaintances or family: “He gets a little freaked out if you glom him before he’s gotten to know you. Why don’t you sit down, and we’ll let him get a look at you first?”
Should you find that “Please don’t touch my baby” isn’t cutting the mustard with the mannerless hyenas of the world, it is appropriate to say, “He’s got hand-foot-and-mouth disease. It’s hugely contagious.”
Dear Care and Feeding,
How do you encourage bonding in siblings with large age gaps? I have two girls, 12 and 2, with different dads. I have been the primary parent for both since forever. My older daughter was not excited to be a big sister and has never really wanted much to do with little kids. Two years in and not much has changed. She’ll play with her sister if I ask her to, but it’s accompanied by a lot of whining. She doesn’t like to hold, hug, or kiss her sister, but she will do all three if I ask. The other day, someone asked her how she liked being a sister and she said, “I don’t.” Sigh. The two of them will probably not have any other siblings, and I’m afraid that the 12-year-old is damaging the relationship out of spite. I’m a lot older than my brothers and sisters, so I can empathize with my daughter on some level, but I also liked little kids, so I don’t fully understand what she’s feeling.
A friend of mine who is a developmental pediatrician believes that a 10-year age gap between kids means that you are essentially raising two only children. I would not try to force the relationship too much. Parents can drive a wedge between siblings, certainly, but apart from that, lifelong sibling relationships and the cultivation thereof are often utterly beyond your control. Make your peace with that!
Your older daughter does not appear to be unkind to her little sister. She has an extremely age-appropriate lack of interest in playing with a toddler. I think things are going quite well, honestly! If the two do become close over time, marvelous. If they do not, that’s OK too. Please stop asking your 12-year-old to hug and kiss her younger sister, I guarantee that it will irritate her and make it less likely for an organic friendship to develop. You just cannot force it.
Toddlers and little kids are really not for everyone. It may be that as your youngest grows up she’ll begin to idolize her big sister’s teen coolness in a way the elder will find pleasing, or they may just remain ships in the night who are pleasant to each other as adults when they meet for holidays and graduations. Expect and demand civility, but don’t push your own conception of sisterhood on them.