Dear Care and Feeding,
I was in my third trimester during quarantine in the middle of a typically hot Florida summer. My two boys have developed a habit (which I’m guilty of starting), and I’m not sure how to break it. Our backyard is bordered by tall natural foliage, and as far as I know, neighbors can’t spy on us. So all summer on our property, my 3- and 4-year old sons and I morphed into wild critters in the backyard while my husband was gone long hours as an essential worker. The bathroom inside is on the opposite side of the house and quite far from the backyard. I was often too tired and hot to waddle all the way there, so instead I’d just pee in the backyard. Of course Thing 1 and Thing 2 followed suit, and at the time I didn’t really care, even though the younger also pooped in the yard a couple times. (I did properly dispose of it.) The problem now is that five months later they are still hellbent on peeing outdoors whenever the opportunity strikes. In some situations this was unavoidable, like parks in our neighborhood that opened post-quarantine yet still took three months to also open their public bathrooms. (I allowed them to pee discreetly in the shrubbery.) They have no problem using the toilet inside the house and inside public places. But if we are out on a walk or at the park or in a friend’s backyard, one of them will inevitably say “pee in grass!” And if I try to run them off to the nearest bathroom, a big tantrum will ensue, twice resulting in pee-soaked shorts. During one park visit, my younger one walked off the playground and squatted down to poop, and I just managed to scoop him up and run all three of the kids to the park bathroom, but it was so stressful I was on the verge of a meltdown. I know it’s a problem, but with a newborn I haven’t had the energy to tackle these tantrums and break the habit. This month they will start back at day care (yay!), but I’m terrified I’ll get a call about one or both of them using the playground as a toilet and terrifying other kids with their nudity. I’m tired, overwhelmed, and don’t know what to do.
—What’s the Difference Between Dogs and Toddlers?
Dear What’s the Difference,
I’m not going to drag you down too much here because I’m sure you’re overwhelmed—but you can’t let your kids empty themselves in your yard, the park, or anywhere outdoors. Some parents will argue that it’s a rite of passage for little boys to pee outdoors, but I’m not one of them, because it will end up causing the type of unnecessary drama you’re dealing with now. Not to mention it’s gross and unsanitary. I can’t even wrap my head around a human (tiny or not) pooping in someone’s backyard.
Breaking bad habits isn’t fun, but it’s possible. First off: I don’t care how tired you are or how inconvenient it may be, you gotta tell them that the days of peeing outdoors are over. In doing so, you have to give yourself and your kids the best chance to succeed. Make sure they use the bathroom prior to leaving the house to go on road trips, to the park, etc. If you find yourself in a pickle and your kiddos need to relieve themselves with no restrooms in sight, there are portable toilets that you can purchase to place in your car. I bought one for my daughters back in the day, and it was a lifesaver. Those tips should rectify the problem, and you should stick to your guns about them not urinating in public. It may mean that they’ll pitch a fit or wet themselves, but trust me—if you make them sit in those pee-soaked shorts that you mentioned for long enough, they’ll change their ways pretty quickly.
You should also proactively tell the day care providers about the boys’ fondness for watering the grass so they can be on the lookout for that behavior. I know it may seem like this will never end, but this too shall pass. It’s not like they’re going to be peeing in bushes when they’re in college.
Forget I said that.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
My gorgeous, delightful 4-year-old saw her passport picture yesterday and said, “I look fat.” The woman at the photo counter immediately responded, “No, you look beautiful.” I panicked (I didn’t expect the fat talk to start at 4) and said, “No, you don’t, and anyway there’s nothing wrong with being fat.” Today she looked in the mirror and said again, “I look fat, Mummy, here” (pointing at her chin, which is perfectly chubby in an adorable puppy fat way). Again, I was at a loss! Do I say “No, you’re not fat” or “It’s OK to be fat” or just deflect? I am mortified that the “fat talk” is starting so early. I try my best to model body positivity, and we don’t ever use that “F word” around the kids. I think it’s most likely she’s picked up on “fat = bad/ugly” from her day care friends (who have also recently taught her “you’re disgusting” as her go-to comeback when she’s mad at us—again, not language we ever use at home). Please help—how do I nip this in the bud?
—Fat Talk at 4
Dear Fat Talk,
Don’t be mortified—kids hear and say all types of horrible things at much younger ages nowadays.
Since you’re not modeling fat-shaming at home, your assumption about the kids at day care being the culprits is probably correct, but you still should find out for sure where it’s coming from. If it’s stemming from day care, then you have every right to bring up the concerns with the people in charge or even the parents of the kids who are saying it. If they don’t take your concerns seriously, you should consider taking your daughter somewhere else where this behavior isn’t tolerated. What starts as fat-shaming today can easily snowball into other kinds of negative behavior, from racism to bullying. Nipping it in the bud early is key.
The next time your daughter tells you that she’s fat, you should simply tell her that beauty comes in all shapes, sizes, heights, and colors—and none of them is bad/ugly, no matter what her friends may believe. However, you should also teach her that something that is unquestionably ugly is making fun of people for their appearances.
The fact that you’re taking this seriously gives me all of the reassurance in the world that she’ll be just fine.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
We all know what happened in D.C., and we should all agree that it was wrong for those people to storm the Capitol building, right? My issue is that I just learned that my 9-year-old daughter’s best friend’s parents are full-on conspiracy theorists who believe that those actions were justified. My daughter plays at their house regularly and told me yesterday that the mom said in front of her that it was a great day for America because these patriots are doing whatever’s necessary to take the country back. I’m sorry, but there’s no way in hell that I want my kid hearing that type of stuff from that lady. That said, my daughter also really values her friendship with this woman’s daughter. What should I do?
—Parenting vs. Politics
I can only hope your daughter is embellishing that story, because anyone sane knows that Jan. 6 was a terrible day for America.
Most kids don’t talk about politics at that age, so I’m sure they’re fine when playing alone, but parents’ political views can rub off on their kids, and you wouldn’t want those beliefs to transfer to your daughter as the girls get older.
I think it’s fine to allow them to play only at your house or at a place where you’re around to observe them, but you definitely shouldn’t allow your daughter to go to this woman’s house when you aren’t there. Also, if you find out that her friend is starting to parrot her mom’s bat-poop talking points about the armed insurrection, then you probably should cut her off altogether. This isn’t about having differing political beliefs—it’s about making excuses for a coup attempt that hasn’t occurred in our country since freaking 1812! We can agree to disagree that pineapple on pizza is great (it’s not), but we cannot disagree on this.
Keep a close eye on your daughter and a closer eye on her friend’s mom.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
I have a lovely, smart, sweet, and sometimes sassy 9-year-old girl. She is good at almost everything she does, and she is very good at making friends (although she is shy around adults she doesn’t know). My concern is with how much she talks about herself. And she talks, a lot! But all her stories center on her and how well or how quickly or how much better she did XYZ. If we are talking about a subject, her participation is almost always about her as the central character.
I’m at a loss about how to handle this. She can be very sweet and often does her best to help people when she sees the opportunity. But I can’t help but worry that if she keeps up with the self-centered dialogue and singing her own laurels, she might not end up with any real friends. Her teachers and peers have nothing but good things to say about her, so I also wonder if I worry about this too much. Is this a normal part of being 9? My 12-year-old son was never this way, so I have no past history to weigh this against. How do I help make sure my daughter doesn’t end up as a self-centered know-it-all? She hates being corrected or told she is wrong about anything.
—Concerned for the Future
Your last sentence is the primary concern here. The fact that she hates being corrected or told that she’s wrong is a recipe for disaster down the road, unless she’s humbled. Let me share a quick personal story.
When I was slightly older than your daughter, I was a very good basketball player—and I would let everyone know about it too. I’d talk trash to my opponents, tell my teammates how good I was, and snap at my coaches when they told me I made mistakes (because I thought I never made mistakes).
Then, one day, everything changed. I played a pickup basketball game, and there was a kid on the other team who was an easy target for my usual goading. He looked like he might become an accountant some day—unassuming, somewhat dorky, and very quiet. I laughed while thinking I was going to send him back home crying to his mama when I was done with him.
It didn’t go down that way.
This kid absolutely embarrassed me, scored on me whenever he felt like it, stole the ball from me whenever he felt like it, and won every single game against me. When it was all over, he deadpanned, “You aren’t good enough to talk like that. There will always be someone better than you, and today it was me.”
While that happened almost 30 years ago, I remember it as if it happened yesterday, and it changed me forever. My days of trash-talking, cockiness, and self-centeredness went out the window. Your daughter needs a moment like that, and it can happen in a number of ways.
You can ask her teachers to challenge her with tougher assignments, which could give her the wake-up call that she needs in regard to being a know-it-all academically. Socially, you could redirect her to asking about someone else’s experience when she starts to go off about how wonderful she is. For example, “Hey, I know you have a lot of friends, but I rarely get to hear about them. Can you share something that’s great about them?” If she’s self-aware enough, she may come to the conclusion that she’s engaging in self-centered behavior. If she doesn’t get it at first, you can keep nudging her in this direction, and hopefully she’ll figure it out.
When not in the midst of a pandemic, you could also pull her friends aside during a play date or sports practice, after school, etc., to ask if they see the same things that you do. For example, “My daughter really likes you, and I want to ensure she is the best friend she can possibly be to you. Out of curiosity, does she talk about herself a lot or brag to you? I’ve seen it at home and I wanted to see if you noticed the same thing too.” You may think that’s a heavy conversation to have with a 9-year-old, but I have a 9-year-old daughter at home and she would be completely honest with me if I asked her that question—and so would many of her friends.
If her friends believe that she can be self-centered, have one of them call her out on it. It doesn’t have to be mean-spirited, but it should be jarring enough to give her the wake-up call she needs. Something as simple as “I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but you talk about yourself a lot” could go a long way. These messages seem to be more powerful coming from someone other than a parent—especially a peer, as was the case for me during that basketball game. Personally, I can’t stand to be around people who talk about themselves all of the time, and I know plenty of folks who would agree with me on that. If it continues when she’s older, she could find herself being very lonely.
If it turns out you’re the only one seeing this (or if you’re the only one bothered by it), maybe it’s not as serious as you think. You mentioned that she’s popular and her teachers like her, so maybe she’s just a confident, assertive kiddo—and there’s nothing wrong with that. However, I still think that getting knocked down from a high horse can be good for a high achiever’s emotional growth. At the very least, she’ll realize that the world doesn’t revolve around her.
More Advice From Slate
Generally speaking, when one parent or the other is periodically gone for a brief business trip, what level of parenting is acceptable? I’m talking about things like meals, screens, etc. In our family it’s usually two days tops, maybe once every two months.