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,
I moved to my area about six years ago, but I didn’t truly become part of the wonderfully tightknit local community until giving birth to my now 5-month-old daughter. It’s been great getting to know other local parents and their kids, and I was especially excited when one family opened a (much needed) café on our street! The shop has quickly become a neighborhood hub; everyone gathers there for coffee before and after mothers’ group, walks to the park, or play dates, etc.
However, after following the café’s Facebook page, I have reason to believe the owners might be anti-vaxxers. I have no wish to put my daughter at risk before she’s old enough to be fully immunized, especially with the current measles scare. Is there a way to ask if the child running around the business is immunized? And if she’s not, do I have to just give up on my newfound mom friends and play dates? I’m new to the group and don’t want to make waves, but I also believe in science and want to protect my baby. Help!
—Shots Aren’t Just for Espresso
I’m so curious as to what you stumbled upon that inspired your concerns—is the café “following” anti-vax pages? Do the owners post about the issue on their personal pages? Is the café called Xav Itna, and it simply didn’t click before you got hooked on the chai and camaraderie?
Spark a conversation with one of the owners, but don’t let on that you are assessing whether they are putting your daughter at risk for potentially deadly illnesses. You’re simply in search of diverse perspectives about this now-controversial subject in order to make choices about her your child’s course of immunizations.
Unvaccinated kids can put even those who have had their immunizations at risk, as getting one’s shots does not guarantee total immunity. This is a situation that could very well result in gossip, dissent, and a major rift in this circle of families, the demise of the coffee shop, or all of the above. Alas, you have a baby to protect. If the café owners haven’t vaccinated their own little one, you are more than justified in keeping your infant away from the shop. Here’s to hoping they did vaccinate their child and started on the path toward Jenny McCarthyism after the fact.
Dear Care and Feeding,
I have a spirited and kind 6-year-old daughter who, I fear, is developing very bad eating habits. She has a healthy appetite and we generally eat healthy foods. She is our most adventurous eater, and enjoys even things that kids don’t often want to eat, i.e., black olives, asparagus, and salmon. The problem is that she really cannot stop herself when food is around and generally likes to shovel food into her mouth. In a nine-month period, she actually gained 12 pounds, which, according to our pediatrician, was very bad. We regularly have to cut her off at mealtime (after three to four helpings). Yesterday, we visited friends and went out on their boat. She brought along a snack bowl of cherries and pistachios (healthy!) and even during a few frightful minutes where the sail broke and all the adults temporarily thought we were going to end up in the water, my daughter was popping cherries and nuts. She even yelled out, “I’m scared!” with a mouth full of food and continued to eat!
To an extent, I think this is a sensory issue and will pass. I am torn about how much we should be managing this. Is it OK to let her gorge herself, just because she’s gorging on mostly real food and not junk? At what point should she be able to self-regulate better? How can we promote better habits to a 6-year-old, when the key to that is sometimes actually going a little hungry (far beyond what I think a 6-year-old is capable of)?
To make matters somewhat more complicated, she has a twin brother who is at the other end of the continuum and doesn’t eat much at all. We are constantly telling one kid that enough is enough, while the other gets reminders that they need to eat more. Help!
—Don’t Want to Micromanage Every Bite!
Balancing affirmation of your daughter’s love for food along with a need to teach her how to learn some self-control is no small task, but it’s entirely possible and critical that you help guide her toward good eating habits now—before she’s eating fried rice out of the refrigerator with her fingers at 2 a.m. because the president did a thing.
Ensure that she’s drinking enough water, as thirst can easily be mistaken for hunger. Teach her how to chew slowly and savor her food, emphasizing the importance of proper digestion to avoid tummy aches and taking time to enjoy the yummy tastes. Avoid using food as a reward (i.e., getting ice cream for cleaning her room) and check in with her when she attempts to get what seems like an unnecessary refill on her dinner plate or snack bowl.
It’s possible that, as you suggest, this is merely a sensory issue, but there are a few other possibilities too. Does she turn to food for comfort—which certainly may have been the case on the boat—or when she is bored? Take the time to try to better understand what your kiddo is reaching for when she looks for that fourth helping. Do not make her feel guilty or self-conscious about her weight, but instead, focus on helping her understand her hunger (and what makes her go for food when she isn’t hungry, if that has been the case) and how to best celebrate the joys of eating within reason.
Also, while it sounds like she eats a pretty healthy diet, there may be some nutrients that she’s missing out on and she may be inadvertently responding to real needs. Talk to your pediatrician and perhaps a nutritionist about her diet and feeling full without gorging herself.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
My brother-in-law recently died by suicide, which has taken a tremendous toll on my 5-year-old son. While I believe it’s important to be honest and open about this really difficult issue and to avoid shaming those who have taken their lives or attempted to do so, I’m worried about how my kid is obsessing over death and the way his uncle, to whom he was close, died.
I never shy away from my son expressing his feelings and death is not a taboo subject in our house (we live on a ranch—animals die and that had to be explained early on). He has always been sensitive and now he often expresses how much he misses his uncle, as well as worrying over if other cousins or family members will “die before” him. In more troubling moments, he speaks about how my brother-in-law killed himself and makes a gun with his hands and puts it in his mouth (though his uncle did shoot himself, that’s not how it happened). I suspect that some conversations with older cousins might have gotten this idea started. I calmly remind him that what he’s acting out is not what happened to his uncle and then say, “We miss Uncle and that’s perfectly OK, but let’s not do that with our hands. That’s not what we need to do when we want to talk about Uncle and his death.”
I’m worried that I’m addressing the issue too much, or maybe not enough. Does he need therapy? I’m not trying to shelter him from this, but how do I stop him from talking about his uncle dying over pancakes at breakfast? While watching a movie? Waiting in line at the grocery store?
—Death Is All Around Us
Though the simulations are rightfully troubling (and heartbreaking), the fact that your son can articulate his grief at his uncle’s loss is a good thing by far. Death is one of the most difficult concepts for a young child to come to terms with. Beloved uncles can’t be replaced like beloved farm animals, and the passing of a human being also reminds us of our own mortality in deeply uncomfortable ways.
The circumstances of your brother-in-law’s passing are particularly devastating and likely confusing to your son to some extent. How could someone who loves him not wish to ever see him again? If you feel so sad that it seems like you’ll never be happy again, is death the best option? Factor in some likely horrifying chatter and speculation from his older cousins, and you have the recipe for a major fixation on what is probably the most devastating event of your child’s young life. There is nothing strange or wrong about your son being unable to shake these thoughts, and coping with this loss is a process that will not soon end.
I love the words you’ve used with your son; keep reminding him that there are better ways to honor both his uncle’s sadness and the love they shared. Does he need therapy? Everyone needs therapy, love. This is a perfect time to get him started. Sending you warm wishes and peaceful thoughts as your family continues to cope with this tragedy.
Dear Care and Feeding,
My 2-year-old daughter goes to a wonderful day care—she and I both love the people there. One question that I have is that when I change her diaper she often moves to touch her vagina and/or clitoris, but then she stops herself saying, “Don’t touch” or “Yucky.” I can understand the day care women telling her not to touch when they’re trying to change her diaper, but I worry that she thinks her parts are yucky. To put it in context, to her, other things that are yucky include dirt, noise, and bugs. I want my daughter to have a healthy self-love and positive attitude toward sexuality. What should I do to make sure she knows that there is no yucky part of her and that there are appropriate times for touching? Or is she too young?
—Touching Doesn’t Have to Be Yucky
Make the difference between “yucky” and “not to be touched by most people, and rarely touched at all” as plain as possible, reinforcing it every time she uses that language. Explain how babies are born and that she very well may have passed through your “yucky” place as she entered the world. Let her know that the only “yuck” that comes from our private parts is the smell of us releasing things that cannot live in our body for good, and that while pooping or peeing may be less than pleasant, we also must not allow ourselves to hold onto them or go unwashed because we feel icky about certain body parts.
The world wants to train us to see our private parts as yucky. Parents have to combat that at every turn. Our kids must love their bodies, from the top of their heads to the bottom of their musty little KFC biscuit–smelling feet. No part is bad, all of them play an important job, and we must consistently affirm that.
Talk to the day care workers about your concerns and let them know that you’re trying very hard to develop a healthy relationship between your daughter and her body. Ensure that they won’t use the Y-word to discourage her from touching herself down below. The most urgent concern is making her comfortable with allowing approved adults to clean her vagina, as the wiggly kid who hates being touched can easily be the one who comes home smelling ripe with urine because the teacher didn’t want to fight. And I’ll say it again, Sex Is a Funny Word is a great tool to have, especially as she gets to be a little older. Happy teaching!
More Advice From Slate
I live in a condo next door to a widow with a 16-year-old daughter. One afternoon after school, I saw the daughter and her boyfriend go into the condo when the mother wasn’t there. I also heard what sounded like loud sex going on in the room on the other side of my home office wall. I brought this to the mother’s attention, and she said she knew about it but would tell them to be quiet. When I asked her why she allowed this, she said she’d rather they be in a safe, comfortable place and have protection than to be sneaking around in parked cars and such. I was absolutely appalled by this and wonder if I can still be friends with these people or if I should call the police, since both of these kids are underage (both 16). Should I turn them in or just turn a blind eye to it?