Dear Care and Feeding,
My oldest daughter is 15 years old and is a straight-A student. I asked her the other night what her ideal job was, and she said, “Anything that makes me a lot of money so I don’t have to only wear bad clothes and won’t have to do dishes.” I first dismissed it as teenage snark, but then I realized that this materialistic attitude is pretty common for her.
Although she wears clothes from nice brands that I buy her, shopping was one of her favorite things before quarantine, and she hates leaving places without buying something. She’s a sweet, funny, smart girl, but she’s the most overjoyed when people buy her things, and feels hurt when I’ll buy her sisters something (like a pair of souvenir sunglasses) and then will ask me to buy her something equivalent to that price later. She always has something she “absolutely neeeeeeds, like right now, Dad!” whether it’s some necklace on sale or a subscription to a bullet journal service. She’s pretty convincing too, thanks to all that debate team prep, so I’ll admit, I do cave sometimes. But it breaks my heart now to think I’ve raised a kid who’s just greedy and materialistic.
Have I messed up that badly? Is there any way to convince her that happiness is not a Gucci belt?
—My Little Materialist
Well, she’s 15 and she likes shopping and presents, and you say she’s a “sweet, funny, smart” straight-A student, so I’m honestly not that worried about this. Most people in our society work in order to pay for things they need, and almost everyone would prefer a job that allows them to also acquire things they want; she may just be ahead of the curve on figuring that one out.
Stop being Daddy Warbucks whenever she starts working you over for a brand-name sweater, engage her in more conversation about which classes she likes best and what professions she thinks she would be good at, and realize that you’re not going to turn her into Florence Nightingale in the three years she has left living at home.
Is she kind to other people? Is she dismissive of poor people? When you do not cave, does she throw a fit? Those are more important questions than whether she, all other things being equal, would prefer a Gucci belt.
But, seriously, quit buying her all this crap. You’re not helping, and you’re a grown man who should know better than to get outfoxed by a convincing teen girl at the mall. If she wants fancier stuff, she can (eventually!) get a job and buy that fancy stuff. It’s amazing how quickly their tastes change when it’s their own money.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
My 10-month-old now has four teeth (two on the top and two on the bottom), and all are at the front. In the last few weeks, he has started to bite me when we’re playing, reading, or cuddling. He seems to do it to me more than with his dad and isn’t responding to me saying “no” or “don’t bite.”
My mum says I should tell him he’s naughty, but I don’t think he’ll understand that either. It is starting to really hurt now, especially as he bites my face, arms, belly, etc. What do I do?
—Frustrated and Bitten
This happens to almost everyone. He’s teething! There are four teeth you can see, and a whole terrifying skullful waiting to make their appearance.
Let’s take a two-prong approach (like fangs). First, when he bites you, SQUEAL and set him down. It hurts! Vamp like it hurts even more than it does. He doesn’t want to hurt you, he loves you. It will not scar him for life if you screech when he bites you and say, “We don’t bite!” Will he understand “We don’t bite!”? No. But he’ll know it hurt you and then he’ll build the association with getting set gently down when he chews on you.
Prong the second: Time to start soaking washcloths in water (the various teething items for chewing you can purchase are also fine), dropping them in Ziploc bags, and popping them in the freezer. If he’s grouchy or unhappy, give him one to gnaw on before he develops more of a taste for human flesh.
I suspect he has an early molar waiting to come through, and those flat bastards are so much harder to pop out than a pointy canine. Give him lots to (literally) chew on, and yelp to high heaven if he bites you instead. Not an angry yelp! Just a noise that says THAT HURT.
My blessings are with you.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
I have an energetic, social 16-month-old who loves to babble. She doesn’t have a lot of actual words in her vocabulary yet. Up is pretty much the only one she uses with a lot of frequency. And when she talks—which is constantly—it sounds like full sentences, as if she has created her own language with almost words.
But there is one problem: She appears to hate any sounds with M’s in them. She can say them. I’ve heard it, but it is rare, and she seems to actively avoid them. Do you have any suggestions or advice in encouraging her with her speech development? Is this nothing to worry about at this time?
—Just Call Me Mom!
At 16 months, I feel it’s entirely likely this will sort itself out, and there’s nothing significant underlying it, but I would also tell you to look up your state or territory’s early intervention program and get on the list for an appointment. The program is free, in most places they will send a person to your home for an assessment (even now!), and they will let you know if your child qualifies for a little help with her speech.
I’ve seen a few weeks of exercises that seem like fun games cause a kid to start happily making noises and sounds and words that were completely absent before. And, of course, since they will assess your child on all developmental fronts, if they spot anything else they would like to probe further, you’ll have that information as well.
In many, many cases, you’ll get told someone will be out in eight weeks, and in three weeks your child will begin singing “Mamma Mia!” and you can call back and cancel. If that’s not the case? You’ll be happy you called. I had early intervention out for one of my three kids at 15 months, they missed qualifying for services by exactly 1 point, they had a language explosion precisely two weeks after the appointment, and now that’s the kid who never shuts up, bless their heart. I’m still very glad I called. I think you will be too.
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Dan Kois, Jamilah Lemieux, and Elizabeth Newcamp host this week’s episode of Slate’s parenting podcast, Mom and Dad Are Fighting.
Dear Care and Feeding,
Our 3-year-old son is speech delayed and has other developmental delays related to serious medical conditions in his infancy. He is an awesome, funny, affectionate, curious kid, and we are so proud of all of his progress! He does receive speech and other therapies, but they’ve been less effective during the pandemic, since they now take place online rather than in person.
He, like most 3-year-olds, has tantrums. In the past, when he was upset, his father and I might say things like “It’s OK” or “I’m sorry” to soothe him, depending on the situation. The challenge is that he now associates the words OK and sorry with being upset and FLIPS OUT when he hears them, no matter the context—my husband and I in conversation with each other, Ernie talking to Bert on Sesame Street, a song lyric in the car, etc. I never realized how often people say those words until now, when every utterance results in wailing. It’s kind of funny, but it’s also gone on for months, and we want him to learn that sorry and OK are … OK!
I also think sorry is an important word for him to learn and be able to use. We’ve tried explaining that sorry is a nice word because it means that you care about other people’s feelings, but it’s not really working. Have you encountered anything like this? Any suggestions?
—What Do We Do Here?
This is going to be OK. I promise. He’s so very young, you’re getting him all the support and resources you can manage under our current circumstances, and I assure you that many, many 3-year-olds with no delays of any kind develop passionate hatreds for certain words and phrases they associate with having their feelings negated. I’m 37, and if someone suggested today that I “might be getting overtired,” I could see myself regress into “I’M NOT TIRED,” which is classic toddler. Also, I am probably just hungry.
Sorry and OK are just fine words. It’s also very common (almost all of us have done it!) to say to an upset kid “You’re OK! You’re OK!” when obviously they do not feel OK. And that’s a little grating. You do not, however, have to eliminate these words from your vocabulary or that of the world. It’s not useful, and it’s not possible.
When he’s upset, try to validate that (“Wow, you’re so upset!”) and try to save sorry and OK for their other contexts. A few months is a long time to stay very hung up on a word or a phrase, but his age and his developmental delays make it far less concerning to me. I don’t think he’ll never gain the ability to apologize! It’s just going to take a little time to reclaim that word for other purposes.
I would loop his speech and language pathologist (based on your letter you almost certainly have an SLP) in on this specific concern, because they are likely used to similar issues and will have better specific ideas than I will. What I can tell you is that he’s going to get over this hurdle. There will be other hurdles, of course, but any parent could have written me this letter, I promise you. Thank you for tackling your child’s specific situation with all your resources and care. He sounds lovely.
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My husband and I are parents to an amazing 20-month-old boy. Before I became pregnant with him, my husband and I would frequently have some drinks with dinner, drinks on the weekend, et cetera. We also work at the same place, which has instituted a weekly gathering of co-workers at a local bar for drinks after work. My husband always goes and ends up getting sloshed. I stay home with our baby and always cherish this alone time with him that I rarely get since my maternity leave. I love our quiet nights together. My husband, though, insists that I need to get out more and come to these gatherings. I do not want to drink anymore and find the idea of getting drunk with my co-workers unappealing. Bath time and cuddles are my excitement now, but my husband thinks I’m depressed. He thinks I am shutting myself in with our baby and it is not healthy. I honestly have never been happier since becoming a mother. Am I wrong?