A 1-YEAR-OLD WHO RESISTS HER CAR SEAT — AND HER MEALS

NEW YORK TIMES COLUMN: FAMILIES TODAY:
A 1-YEAR-OLD WHO RESISTS HER CAR SEAT — AND HER MEALS
By: T. Berry Brazelton, M.D., and Joshua Sparrow, M.D.

Q. I’m the proud father of a 1-year-old baby girl.

Every time we put her into her car seat for a drive (5 to 20 minutes long), she seems fine and playful for the first few minutes but within no time, she’s crying for attention. She’ll do the cry-stop-cry-stop for as long as 20 minutes.

She’ll reach a point where she’ll just burst into continuous tears. My wife and I have tried toys, Cheerios, cookies, singing and even ignoring her to see if she would stop. The toys, food and singing work just for a minute or two but that’s about it.

We’ve reached the point where we dread going for drives. We know that she’s OK because her diaper is dry, she’s well fed and she’s not tired (when she is tired, a pacifier puts her to sleep in no time).

There is another issue as well. Our daughter is a great eater when it comes to formula and Cheerios (sometimes some cookies). However, we’ve been working on trying to give her solids but with no success.

You’ve said that milk is fine until age 3 but you also recommend the child having bread, yogurt, orange juice, etc. Our daughter will have minimal to no solids – I mean like two to three pea-sized pieces of chicken/tomato/cucumber, etc., MAX!

It seems that all the other kids her age are eating quite well. As you’ve mentioned, we tried giving her solids before her regular feeds (when she’s hungry) but haven’t gotten anywhere.

Also, when she’s in the highchair, we’ll immediately take her out if she starts throwing the food onto the floor. I must mention that from 6 months of age till 9 months, she was eating oatmeal baby cereal once a day. She then reached a point where she didn’t even want to see the spoon coming toward her.

People tell us that she isn’t eating her solids because we started solid feeding too late. They all think we should have started at four months instead of us starting at six months.

A.    A two-fer!

First the car seat:

You are not alone. Nor is your 1-year-old. Babies were not designed to be in car seats, no matter how well car seats were designed to protect them. Many 1-year-olds hate them. Their energy is likely to be focused on getting up and getting going. Whether they’re already walking or not, at this age, children are intent on moving, practicing their moves, strengthening their muscles, learning to balance and to experience the world around them. So of course your baby is bound to protest until she can get going again.

You say she’s crying for attention, but it sounds like when you give it to her, it doesn’t help. So it may be that she’s just letting you know that she hates being restrained, and can’t wait to get out. Don’t let her until you’ve arrived at your destination. But don’t worry. When she’s older, and takes walking for granted, she won’t mind sitting still as much as she does now.

In the meantime, she might be more likely to settle if one of you can sit next to her and soothe her. You’ll miss out on being together as a couple on your drives during this period, but it doesn’t sound like you could be having much fun anyway with all that screaming. (And of course this won’t work when you’re all alone to drive her.)
The other possibility is that she may be motion sick – that could be why she seems fine for the first few minutes. Does it make a difference if you drive more gently, taking it easy on the accelerator and the brakes, and slowly around the curves? You might try a bottle for her to suck on to see if this helps to settle.

Next, the picky eating:

It sounds as if the advice and criticism from books and friends are making you doubt yourself. Yet what you describe can be right on track for many children, as long as their growth and health are. (And we don’t think you need to worry about having started solids at six months.)

You say you could spoon-feed her cereal from 6 to 9 months – and then, nothing doing. Nine months is the age when many infants seem to announce to their parents that they are ready to take over. They’ll start grabbing for the spoon, and now that they can, they’ll pick up food between finger and thumb and throw it on the floor. It is time to start involving them in their own feeding. At this age give them a spoon, and let them try to shovel in their food themselves. Or try one spoon for each hand, so that you can use a third one to feed her while her hands are busy.

But at 1, or a few months later, many children start making a fuss about feeding. If you try to force them, you’ll lose. You are right about the pea-sized pieces of food. Just put a few of these on her table at a time. That way, she won’t be overwhelmed, and when she hurls them overboard, you can just start again. Many children need to be introduced to the same new food over and over before they’ll give it a try and many more times before they can accept the taste and texture.

If your pediatrician can check her out, and offer vitamin and iron supplements, you’ll be able to relax, and avoid the struggles that tend to just make the picky eating worse. You and she are lucky that she still likes her milk! (See our book “Feeding Your Child: the Brazelton Way,” Da Capo 2003, for more suggestions, and information on children’s nutritional needs.)

The best part – that no matter what, you are a proud father! Congratulations.

Responses to questions are not intended to constitute or to take the place of medical or psychiatric evaluation, diagnosis or treatment. If you have a question about your child’s health or well-being, consult your child’s health-care provider.

Dr. Brazelton heads the Brazelton Touchpoints Project, which promotes and supports community initiatives that are collaborative, strength-based, prevention-focused sources of support for families raising children in our increasingly stressful world. Dr. Sparrow, a child psychiatrist, is Director of Strategy, Planning and Program Development at the Brazelton Touchpoints Center. Learn more about the Center at www.touchpoints.org.

Reprinted with permission from the authors.