WHEN A SMALL CHILD STEALS

NEW YORK TIMES COLUMN: FAMILIES TODAY:
WHEN A SMALL CHILD STEALS
By: T. Berry Brazelton, M.D., and Joshua Sparrow, M.D.

Small children engage in stealing for at least two reasons. First, everything “belongs” to a 2- or 3-year-old until someone tells him differently.

If he sees a toy in a toy store or a bag of cookies in a grocery, he thinks they’re his – until he learns that such things belong to others. This lesson takes time.

Punishment will drive the behavior underground, only to come out later in less acceptable ways. Gentle explanations of how to respect possessions, coupled with firm limits, are much more effective.

A more subtle reason for stealing is the desire to identify with others. As a preschool child increasingly identifies with his parents, his siblings or his schoolmates, he may take things from them. Thus, in his concrete way of thinking, he becomes like them.

When stealing first appears, it’s exploratory and acquisitive rather than a sign of being “bad.” If you explode with anger, you’re likely to engender fear and repeated acts of stealing.

Of course it frightens a parent when a small child steals, particularly if he seems to realize what he’s done by lying about it. But if you can understand that stealing is universal among children, you can avoid overreacting – and turning such behavior into a pattern.

Your goal is to use each episode as an opportunity to teach. But a child will only be ready to learn if he isn’t overwhelmed by guilt.

Helping a child understand his reasons for taking others’ possessions enables him to hear you when you discuss others’ rights. Learning to respect others’ possessions and territory is a long-term goal. Handled with sensitivity, each stealing episode can lead in that direction.

Try not to label the child as a thief as you talk to him, and don’t harp on the incident afterward. It’s wise not to confront the child by asking him whether he stole; this may just force him to lie.

Simply make clear that you know where the object came from. Ask your child to produce it if necessary, and say, “You know you can’t take something that isn’t yours.”

Help the child return the object to its owner and apologize, even if it means going back to the store and suffering the embarrassment of returning the object or paying for it. Let the child work off the cost by doing chores.

Preventing stealing involves patient teaching – over and over. Be consistent in your reactions each time.

  1. Show the child how to ask for what he wants.
  2. Make simple rules about sharing with others, such as “You don’t take another child’s toy without asking her and offering her one of yours.”
  3. Explain the concept of borrowing and returning a toy: “You may ask whether you can play with it. If they say no, that’s it. If they say yes, you must offer to return it.”

“If we’re in a store and you want some cookies, ask me whether you can have them. If I say yes, wait until I’ve paid for them before you take them.”

In this way, you’re teaching the child respect for others’ things, demonstrating the manners he needs when he asks for something and helping him learn to delay gratification.

It’s also important to explain why such rules are necessary – “to protect others’ toys the way you want to protect yours.” Help him see your point of view: You can’t allow him to take others’ possessions.

Then ask him how he plans to handle the situation, to give part of the responsibility of limits to him. If he can come up with a satisfactory solution, you can give him credit. Finally, and most important, when he succeeds, be sure to let him know you’re proud of him.

If stealing continues, look for possible underlying reasons. Is the child guilty and frightened and reacting by a sort of repetition-compulsion? Is he so insecure that he needs others’ possessions to make him feel like a whole person? Do others already disapprove of him and label him?

If he repeats his acts of stealing, he may be asking you for therapy. Don’t wait until he feels like a failure and the labels stick. Seek outside help. Your child’s doctor or the child psychiatry department at a teaching hospital can make a referral.

(This article is adapted from “Touchpoints: Birth to Three,” by T. Berry Brazelton, M.D., and Joshua D. Sparrow, M.D., published by Da Capo Press, a member of The Perseus Books Group.)


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.

Prior to Dr. Brazelton’s passing in 2018, he was the founder and director of 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 now the director of the Brazelton Touchpoints Center. Learn more about the Center at www.touchpoints.org.

Reprinted with permission from the authors.

THE DOCTOR-CHILD RELATIONSHIP

NEW YORK TIMES COLUMN: FAMILIES TODAY:
THE DOCTOR-CHILD RELATIONSHIP
By: T. Berry Brazelton, M.D., and Joshua Sparrow, M.D.

Routine visits are opportunities for me to develop a relationship with the child and the parents right from the start.

I never expect a baby between the ages of 9 months and 3 years to leave her mother’s lap for an examination. When I recognize the child’s need to be close to a parent, the child knows I respect her.

I never look the child directly in the face or ask for her to accept me. In this period, I gradually approach her, using a doll or teddy and her parent to show what I am about to do – like using the stethoscope.

I make a big effort to get a slightly older child to want to come to my office – loading it with toys, a fish tank, a climbing gym, a flexible cloth tunnel to crawl through, and a rock collection, and I offer stickers and plastic rings (for children old enough not to swallow them) that they can show off as tokens of their bravery.

As the child comes into my office, I watch to see how comfortable she is. If she’s frightened about me, I know that. Giving her time to get used to me is respectful. The time is well worth it. She’ll be far easier to examine. Her parents will be less hesitant to warn me of potentially serious problems – early – once they’ve seen this demonstration of my concern for their child’s comfort.

As I examine the child in her parent’s lap, I urge her to listen to my chest. We’re sharing the experience and she knows it. She also knows that I respect her privacy and her natural anxiety about being examined. We’re setting the stage now for a long future relationship.

I comment on the child’s temperament and mode of play. She knows I understand her. She listens. Anything her parents and I need to discuss is talked about in front of her, and I try to put it in her terms. I want her to understand what we are talking about. No secrets! I prepare her for a shot, honestly, and urge her to cry and to protect herself. After it’s over, I congratulate her on her success.

As a child gets older, at 4 or 5, I may even urge her to ask her own questions and to call me on the phone. She won’t yet. But by 6 or 7, she will.

We can discuss her illness between us, though of course I won’t leave the parents out. In later years, when she’ll let me see her alone, we can share confidences without its being a triangle – though she, her parents and I all know that I will help her to tell them what she needs to.

I believe in sharing all I know about each illness with the children themselves. My goal is to help them take an active role in conquering their own diseases. If they can call or talk with me, and carry out my advice, this lesson will stay with them. When they recover, I can congratulate them: “Look how you knew what to do – and it worked!”

When children must go to the hospital, it becomes even more critical that a physician explain the reasons and the procedures in front of the child. We have found that preparation for acute or chronic hospitalization cuts down on the child’s anxiety in the hospital, shortens the child’s recovery time and reduces the symptoms of anxiety afterward.

In my office practice, the best reward for me at the end of a busy day always came when I heard a child’s chortle of delight as she rushed in to see me and my familiar toys. Then I knew we were off to a good start.

Sharing Responsibilities

  1. Seek to establish a trusting, respectful relationship between your child and her doctor. You must do your part as well. It’s is no help to enter the office saying, “He’s going to cry” or “She hates coming to see the doctor.”
  2. Prepare the child ahead of time, truthfully, and with reassurance about what is likely to happen.
  3. Remind her that you’ll be there, and that it’s her own doctor who wants to be her friend. The doctor knows how to help her when she’s well and when she’s not. It’s surprising to me how much it helps a child’s self-esteem to learn to trust her physician. Working with a pediatrician is a mutual job of learning what you can – and can’t – get from each other. You must demonstrate respect, and you deserve respect in return. Both of you have the same goal – a healthy, competent, confident child!

(This article is adapted from “Touchpoints: Birth to Three,” by T. Berry Brazelton, M.D., and Joshua D. Sparrow, M.D., published by Da Capo Press, a member of The Perseus Books Group.)


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.

Prior to Dr. Brazelton’s passing in 2018, he was the founder and director of 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 now the director of the Brazelton Touchpoints Center. Learn more about the Center at www.touchpoints.org.

Reprinted with permission from the authors.

TOYS EXTEND A CHILD’S DREAMS

NEW YORK TIMES COLUMN: FAMILIES TODAY:
TOYS EXTEND A CHILD’S DREAMS
By: T. Berry Brazelton, M.D., and Joshua Sparrow, M.D.

In our culture, toys play a major role in many children’s lives. In the first few months, a child is given a “lovey” to hold and to use for transitions such as when she’s going to sleep or feeling hurt or lonely.

The lovey – often a blanket, a piece of soft material or a beloved teddy bear – becomes an extension of herself and her caregiver.

With the lovey, she feels secure and ready to face transitions. Without it, she must rely on adults who can’t always be there, no matter how reliable they are.

From the time a child looks at or reaches for objects, some parents equip the crib with the latest toys for infants. “Learning” toys soon supplement cuddly ones.

Musical, speaking and reading toys reflect parents’ concerns about providing enough “brain stimulation” to enable toddlers to excel in competitive preschools.

Computer games have become part of many 3- and 4-year-olds’ lives. Children imitate their parents, manipulating handheld electronics, just like them. But watch a child’s face when a parent looks away to a smartphone at each intruding text message.

Such sophisticated toys can cause pressure rather than stimulate exploration and play. Parents who are away all day or are leading very busy lives may feel they need to satisfy a preschooler by offering constructive, educational replacements of themselves. Toys can become surrogates by filling the isolation in which many of us live. But toys don’t have to be used this way.

When a child chooses an object as a toy, it becomes part of her world. Toys extend a child’s dreams. A parent can attend seriously to a child’s choice of toys and observe how she plays with them.

If a parent can help choose a toy as a way to learn about the child and who she’s becoming, the process can become a form of communication. (Toy stores, too stimulating for most children at this age, are rarely set up to encourage such communication.)

For a toddler, pots and pans give her an opportunity to mimic kitchen chores. At 3, 4 and 5, simple dolls and toy soldiers help children live out fantasies.

The distorted anatomies of Barbie dolls and pumped-up action figures are intriguing to some children, as is the mysterious adult sexuality they evoke. But toys like these impose adult preoccupations on child’s play and don’t encourage a child’s self-discovery and self-expression.

Many children turn to safer toys, such as toy animals and puppets, when they play out the aggressive feelings that they need to test. Simpler toys leave room for a child to try out her own dreams and wishes, her own aggressive or sexual fantasies. Toys offer the child a link for play with a peer as well as an opportunity to learn about others.

A parent must ask: Does the toy elicit her own fantasies and imagination and allow her to spin them into dreams that sustain the play? Does it challenge her, while leading her to find her own solutions? How much room does the toy leave for her – or does it take over and make her give in to it?

Other considerations include:

  • Safety. Inspect toys for parts small enough to be inhaled or swallowed. A toy shouldn’t be breakable or easily taken apart. Toy safety is regulated, but not always enforced, so parents need to be careful.
  • Durability. Will the toys withstand the experimentation that is a necessary part of their future?
  • Noise. Can you stand the repetitious music or crooning speech that accompanies some toys?
  • Interest. Can the toy hold the child’s long-term attention, or will it be forgotten?
  • Appropriateness. One child may need a quiet, solitary toy that challenges her intellectually; another might prefer an activity-based toy.

(This article is adapted from “Touchpoints: Three to Six,” by T. Berry Brazelton, M.D., and Joshua D. Sparrow, M.D., published by Da Capo Press, a member of The Perseus Books Group.)


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.

Prior to Dr. Brazelton’s passing in 2018, he was the founder and director of 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 now the director of the Brazelton Touchpoints Center. Learn more about the Center at www.touchpoints.org.

Reprinted with permission from the authors.

PUTTING NIGHTTIME FEARS TO REST

NEW YORK TIMES COLUMN: FAMILIES TODAY:
PUTTING NIGHTTIME FEARS TO REST
By: T. Berry Brazelton, M.D., and Joshua Sparrow, M.D.

Awareness of her own power brings new fears to a 4-year-old. She becomes more aware that she’s a small child, a part of a larger world, dependent on her parents or others at critical times. Her new understanding makes her conscious of her limitations. She feels pulled between this sense of dependence and a desire to master her world that propels her onward.

Play and fantasy are powerful ways to work this out. The child’s ability to verbalize and reason makes her fantasies more elaborate.

But these vivid fantasies lead to fears and bad dreams. “I dreamt of a witch in my closet.” “I know there’s no monster in my room, but I feel it.”

The monsters and witches may also represent the strain of facing “new” feelings. Becoming aware of powerful negative and aggressive impulses can be frightening. A parent can help her accept them. But to master them, the child needs to learn, gradually, the difference between having a feeling and acting on it.

Fears and nightmares are common in 4-, 5- and 6-year-olds. Children worry about “bad guys,” witches, lions, tigers and monsters.

These night problems occur at the same time as a fear of dogs, loud noises, sirens and ambulances. Such problems herald the child’s more openly aggressive feelings, which frighten her when they seem echoed by forces beyond her control.

At this stage, children want to test their own limits more openly. They want to act out aggressive and rebellious play. Such feelings are important to a child’s personality and sense of security. They need to know they can feel angry and not lose control.

Firm discipline and consistent limits are reassuring to a child at this time: “You may not wander around the house at night. I may well have to fix your door. I can come to you, but you can’t come out alone.”

What helps a child learn to cope with fears and nightmares?

  1. Comfort the child and take the fears seriously, but don’t add your own anxiety to hers.
  2. Look under the bed and in the closet. Let her understand that this is for her comfort, not because you really think there is any danger.
  3. Set firm limits on bedtime. They’re reassuring.
  4. Don’t forget the power of a comforting lovey.
  5. Help a child learn how to soothe herself when she wakes in fear. She can distract herself by singing songs, making up stories or thinking pleasant thoughts. In modified form, adapted to other situations, she will use these skills for the rest of her life.
  6. Help the child learn “safe” aggression during the day. Modeling your own ways of handling your aggression becomes even more important. Talk about them with the child when they occur.
  7. Read fairy tales together. They encourage young children to face their own fears and angry feelings. Or read, among many others, “There’s a Nightmare in My Closet,” by Mercer Mayer; “Where the Wild Things Are,” by Maurice Sendak; and “Much Bigger Than Martin,” by Steven Kellogg.

Books allow a child to face and eventually master such feelings: She can turn the pages at her own pace, study a picture as long as she likes, go backward or close the book tight. Television and movies have a pace of their own – they present scary situations too vividly and fail to respect the child’s need to control how much she is able to confront.

(This article is adapted from “Touchpoints: Three to Six,” by T. Berry Brazelton, M.D., and Joshua D. Sparrow, M.D., published by Da Capo Press, a member of The Perseus Books Group.)


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.

Prior to Dr. Brazelton’s passing in 2018, he was the founder and director of 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 now the director of the Brazelton Touchpoints Center. Learn more about the Center at www.touchpoints.org.

Reprinted with permission from the authors.

CALLING A TIMEOUT

NEW YORK TIMES COLUMN: FAMILIES TODAY:
CALLING A TIMEOUT
By: T. Berry Brazelton, M.D., and Joshua Sparrow, M.D.

Q. What does a parent do if a child won’t stay in timeout?

A. Timeouts are widely used, and almost as widely questioned.

Timeouts don’t work when they are misunderstood or misapplied. They are just one step in the process of helping a child learn not only to control herself but also to know and care about the difference between right and wrong.

The term “timeout” was borrowed from sports in which a team may officially call for a brief interval – to regroup, to rethink or to slow the pace.

Timeouts were never meant to be used as a punishment or consequence or boundary-marker. They should be used to stop the action when things are getting out of hand and to help children settle themselves down and think things through.

Yet when a child is told to go on “timeout,” she must be ready to listen and self-possessed enough to pull herself together to comply. When she’s too upset, you may need to scoop her up and hold her until she’s calm enough to handle a timeout. If she’s too big for this approach, but she’s in a safe place, just backing off is often enough.

Children are far likelier to follow through with a timeout when they are calmly and firmly instructed to do so. Tone of voice is important. If a timeout is assigned angrily, or as a punishment, any but the most docile child is likely to respond with a struggle.

A child is all the more reluctant to accept a timeout if it is imposed by an adult who needs a timeout too. The same child may be happy to comply if, instead, the adult proposes, “Let’s both take a timeout.”

A child will also calm down faster if stimulation can be reduced during a timeout, with no more back-and-forth.

But the child needn’t be isolated. We know one child care center that doesn’t use timeouts. Instead there’s a “cozy couch” on one wall where children can go, or are told to go, when they need to calm down. But they can see all the action and can settle themselves down without feeling embarrassed or cut off from everyone else. The message is that learning self-control is necessary and completely respectable. These are timeouts without stigma.

Limit-setting and consequences come next. There is no point in reasoning with a child who is behaving wildly. As soon as she’s calm and able to listen, let her know that her behavior was unacceptable, and that she will be forgiven, but that she will need to make reparations.

The consequences should be as closely tied to the transgression as possible – if she hit someone, she’ll need to apologize; if she took something that wasn’t hers, she’ll need to return it.

But the rough-and-tumble challenge of mastering self-control often starts with a quiet timeout.

(This article is adapted from “Touchpoints: Three to Six,” by T. Berry Brazelton, M.D., and Joshua D. Sparrow, M.D., published by Da Capo Press, a member of The Perseus Books Group.)


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.

Prior to Dr. Brazelton’s passing in 2018, he was the founder and director of 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 now the director of the Brazelton Touchpoints Center. Learn more about the Center at www.touchpoints.org.

Reprinted with permission from the authors.

HELPING A CHILD ADJUST TO THE NEW BABY

NEW YORK TIMES COLUMN: FAMILIES TODAY:
HELPING A CHILD ADJUST TO THE NEW BABY
By: T. Berry Brazelton, M.D., and Joshua Sparrow, M.D.

When you arrive home with the new baby in your family, I’d suggest that you have a new and special toy ready to give your older child – preferably a baby of his own that he can feed and diaper while you care for your baby. If he’s more interested in trucks, give him one that he can hold, fuel and wash. This is a chance for him to model on your nurturing.

Don’t be afraid to set limits on how much he can handle the new baby. Limits will be reassuring for him as his feelings about her come to the surface.

If he wants to hold her “like you do,” ask him to sit in a chair. You will need to stay right by his side. You can show him how to put one hand under her neck and head to protect her. He will be learning how to “be a big brother.”

If the older child soon loses interest in being a big brother, don’t be surprised, and don’t make too much of it. Though he may at times be proud of his new role, it’ll be a burden for him, too. Instead, expect him to want to be your baby again. Let him.

Many children who are just discovering what it means to be an older sibling begin to be cruel to the dog or cat. Stop your child firmly but gently, and let him know that you can’t allow this. Help him with his feelings by letting him know that his anger is understandable even though he can’t take it out on the pet.

It won’t help if these feelings are allowed to go underground. An older child is likely to feel that the new baby has displaced him because he was not “good enough.”

A 3- or 4-year-old can often recall mischief that made you angry and led you, in his mind, to want to replace him.

A child of 6 or 7 or older may just ignore the baby – and you. He may even seem to disappear because he’s spending more time with his friends, or dawdling on his way home from school.

Instead of being your companion as you get to know the baby, he seems to want to avoid you to punish you. Time alone with you and your willingness to listen and answer questions will be all the more important.

How to Help an Older Child Adjust to the New Baby

  • Let the older child know how much you’ve missed him.
  • Let him know that the baby has been added to the family and is not a replacement: “Now you have a brand new baby sister. But nobody could ever be just like you!”
  • Hold him close, and remind him of experiences you’ve shared and will share again.
  • Be ready for his need to fall back on old behavior you’d thought he’d outgrown. Don’t expect too much of him right now.
  • If he pushes you to discipline him, remember that limits can be especially reassuring to him with the new baby around. Limits mean to him that his parents “haven’t changed, still love me and will stop me when I need it.”
  • Don’t urge him to be “such a good big brother.” This job won’t always seem so appealing. It will mean more when he finds his own motivation to fill the role.
  • Guard against wanting him to grow up too fast. He will grow up when he’s ready. And his younger sibling is already pushing him enough.

(This article is adapted from “Understanding Sibling Rivalry” by T. Berry Brazelton, M.D., and Joshua D. Sparrow, M.D., published by Da Capo Press, a member of The Perseus Books Group.)


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.

Prior to Dr. Brazelton’s passing in 2018, he was the founder and director of 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 now the director of the Brazelton Touchpoints Center. Learn more about the Center at www.touchpoints.org.

Reprinted with permission from the authors.

IN TOILET TRAINING, A PREMIUM ON PATIENCE

NEW YORK TIMES COLUMN: FAMILIES TODAY:
IN TOILET TRAINING, A PREMIUM ON PATIENCE
By: T. Berry Brazelton, M.D., and Joshua Sparrow, M.D.

Problems in toilet training nearly always arise because of an imbalance in the parent-child relationship. Children usually show signs of readiness between age 2 and 3. When parents can’t wait until then, and impose toilet training as their idea, the child will feel the pressure as an invasion.

All parents, of course, want their child to grow up and cross this threshold. Preschools often insist that a child be “trained” before he comes to school.

Other parents may offer advice and condescending comfort when their children are already trained. Grandparents may imply that toilet training is a measure of effective parenting and of a child’s overall competence. Some families may see the child’s entire second year as preparation for success in this area.

A toddler for whom independence is a passionate issue anyway will have his own struggles. He may stand in front of a potty, screaming with indecision. Or, he may crawl into a corner to hide as he performs a bowel movement, watching his parents out of the corner of his eye.

It’s a rare parent who won’t feel that such a child needs help to get his priorities straight.

When a parent steps in to sort out the guilt and confusion, the child’s yearning for autonomy becomes a power struggle between them. Then the scene is set for failure.

In bedwetting, as in many of the problems encountered with toilet training, a child’s need to become independent at his own speed is at stake. When a child’s need for control is neglected, he may see himself as a failure: immature, guilty and hopeless. The effect of this damaged self-image on his future will be greater than the symptoms themselves.

Given that toilet training is a developmental process that the child will ultimately master at his own speed, why do parents feel they must control it? My experience has led me to the conclusion that it’s very hard for parents to be objective about toilet training.

The child becomes a pawn – to be “trained.” It may take us another generation before we can see toilet training as the child’s own learning process – to be achieved by him in accord with the maturation of his own bladder and central nervous system.

When Problems Exist:

A.) Discuss the problem openly with your child. Apologize and admit you’ve been too involved.

B.) Remember your own struggles, and your eventual successes, so that you can let the child see that there is hope ahead.

C.) State clearly that toilet training is up to the child. “We’ll stay out of it. You’re just great, and you’ll do it when you’re ready.”

D.) Let the child know that many children are late in gaining control, for good reasons. Then, let him alone. Don’t mention it again.

E.) Keep the child in diapers or protective clothing, not as a punishment, but to take away the fuss and anxiety.

F.) Don’t have a child under age 5 tested unless the pediatrician sees signs of a physical problem. A urinalysis can be done harmlessly, but invasive tests and procedures – enemas, catheters, X-rays and so on – should be reserved for children who clearly need them.

G.) Make clear to the child that when he achieves control, it will be his own success and not yours.

(This article is adapted from “Touchpoints: Birth to Three,” by T. Berry Brazelton, M.D., and Joshua D. Sparrow, M.D., published by Da Capo Press, a member of The Perseus Books Group.)


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.

Prior to Dr. Brazelton’s passing in 2018, he was the founder and director of 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 now the director of the Brazelton Touchpoints Center. Learn more about the Center at www.touchpoints.org.

Reprinted with permission from the authors.

THE PACIFIER PROBLEM

NEW YORK TIMES COLUMN: FAMILIES TODAY:
THE PACIFIER PROBLEM
By: T. Berry Brazelton, M.D., and Joshua Sparrow, M.D.

Q. My almost 4-year-old refuses to give up her pacifier and I am concerned about her teeth. Since her sister was born 10 months ago, she seems to be using it much more. Do you recommend we get rid of it cold-turkey as some pediatricians have recommended? Will the pacifier cause long-term damage to her palate and/or teeth?

A. Some studies associate pacifier use with orthodontic problems, especially as children get older. Such findings don’t mean that any child who uses a pacifier will need orthodontic treatment, but treatment appears to be necessary more often with pacifier use.

We know of no studies that link cold-turkey termination of the pacifier with significant psychological problems later. Concerns arise from the notion that interfering with a young child’s need for oral soothing may lead to overeating and other problems.

The practical challenge in stopping pacifier use is that there’s no sure way to do it. Often, when a parent tries, the child just clings harder to the pacifier.

You mention that a baby sister came along 10 months ago.

Children often suck their thumbs, fingers or pacifiers to reduce stress. They’re bound to feel more anxious when the whole family is.

When a new baby is brought home, parents are understandably preoccupied, worn out and less available to the older child. She may wonder why her parents had to go to all that trouble for this crying, demanding, inert little creature who won’t be much fun for a long time. The question may vaguely cross her mind, “Is the new baby here because I wasn’t enough to satisfy them?”

As she tries to adapt to her new role of older sister, and learns to wait until her parents have time for her, she’s likely to feel upset. As the baby grows, there will be new challenges for the older child – when the baby says her first words, or begins to crawl or walk and get into all of the older child’s toys. A thumb, finger or pacifier can be a welcome refuge.

It may help to offer this child other strategies for soothing herself – a “lovey” such as a soft blanket to stroke and cuddle, or a stuffed animal to squeeze tight. There’s no need for lots of dolls and animals – too many will just distract her. Instead, she’ll need to become attached to a single special one. Hand it to her when she’s distressed, tired or has scraped an elbow or knee, and tell her to hug it hard to help her feel better.

After a new baby is born, the older child feels the need to be a baby, too. The baby just seems to suck up all the time and get all the parents’ attention – so why wouldn’t an older child try the same thing?

Parents often think they can help the older child adjust by praising her for being such a “good big sister.” But the older child also needs reassurance that she can be a baby again when she needs to. The more her need to regress is openly expressed and accepted, the less she’s likely to do so.

Family life is especially busy with a 10-month-old, but the older child might need some extra time to cuddle with you. Don’t say a word about it, and don’t make it an issue, but try to give her some gentle one-on-one time when she doesn’t have her pacifier. Thus she’ll learn – through actions rather than words – that there are even more rewarding places for her to find the comfort she seeks.


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.

Prior to Dr. Brazelton’s passing in 2018, he was the founder and director of 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 now the director of the Brazelton Touchpoints Center. Learn more about the Center at www.touchpoints.org.

Reprinted with permission from the authors.

ANNUAL CONFERENCE 2018

Event Phone: 207-375-8184

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  • MeAIMH Annual Conference 2018
    May 18, 2018
    8:15 am - 4:00 pm

MeAIMH Annual Training Conference REGISTRATION IS NOW OPEN For our 31st Annual Conference May 18, 2018 8:15 AM – 4:00 PM Hilton Garden Inn Freeport Downtown 5 Park St., Freeport, Maine Finding the Hope and Strengths In Substance-Exposed Young Families Featuring: Jayne Singer, PhD Developmental Medicine Center, Boston Children’s Hospital Faculty & Founder Early Care Read more