Apparently, there is a shimmering mermaid living in my house. She sings “We Are The Daughters of Triton” at the top of her lungs. She pretends to scatter shells for the merfolk in her kingdom on the pool steps while we’re on vacation. And she even picked out a blue mermaid swimsuit, complete with scales and a jeweled neckline, for our trip to Hawaii. Raising daughters is always an adventure (for help with the hard parts, click here for a free guide to toddler tantrums).
When my daughter is not playing sea kingdom, she is almost always in full princess gear. We do have a rule that no costumes are allowed for school, music class or soccer (it’s just too distracting) but, otherwise, it’s on. To say she is usually in pink or purple or some other variation on that theme would be a huge understatement- the girl lives for girlie.
And, of course, you know how it goes- once the word gets out that there’s a girl interested in princess stuff in the house, all future gifts from every relative and friend tend to fit that theme. At least I think that’s how I ended up with 20 dress-up costumes hanging neatly in my playroom. My little royal wants to wear her crown and necklace whether we’re headed to Target or to the airport- it doesn’t really matter the destination.
The other day, at the coffee shop in a full-on Snow White outfit my eldest picked out herself, I watched the reactions of two patrons toward her. One rolled her eyes and snarked, the other grinned and gave me a knowing wink. I get the gut response of both onlookers: the desire to not let our daughters’ accomplishments stop at being saved by Prince Charming, the fact that kids have minds of their own and often have a very specific wardrobe plan from the moment they wake up, the reality that most parents learn to roll with it sooner or later. They clearly haven’t raised daughters.
But there is a limit. When I think about how far is too far when it comes to the whole princess thing, it really boils down to one thing. What is my child learning as she plays? My goal (the same goal I would have if my house was filled with all boys) is to support and encourage my children to fall in love with learning and to embrace imaginative play. And that means encouraging them to fall in love with learning whatever THEY are the most excited about. If they’re into superheroes, awesome. Explorers? Sweet. Math and science? Works for me. Far be it from me to make decisions for my littles as to who they will get excited about imagining themselves to be.
Let them wear pink, I say.
It’s going take more than an outfit choice to determine my kids’ futures. I feel confident I’m still leading them down a path of empowerment. That’s because, while I’m easy on the wardrobe choices, I’m a stickler when it comes to these things:
1. I intentionally provide a variety of storyline exposures in book and screen time form.
2. I prioritize real-life interactions for my kids with women and men who are pursuing their professional passions and helping others.
Chefs, photographers, lawyers, doctors, artists- I make sure my kids see that being successful means you love what you do and choose the profession that makes you satisfied- not the one that satisfies someone else’s expectations of you.
3. I try to limit the grossly stereotyped stories we do see or listen to.
When we come across those books or shows, we try to talk through the gender roles that come up and we (usually in a silly way) question the assumptions those shows make. I remember listening to my husband read my eldest a bedtime story about Rapunzel last year, shifting the narrative slyly for her. “So why do you think The Prince wanted to go see Rapunzel? I think it’s cause she is SO good at Algebra- he thinks that’s really neat.” He probably knew I could hear him downstairs but, hey, I’ll take it!
4. I make it a point to develop girl AND boy relationships for my daughters.
Of course, I love my little girl’s girlfriends, but we mix it up. Diversity in gender, in ethnicity, in religion, in family make-up- the more my girls can appreciate the preferences and rituals of others, the better they can define their own as they mature. In the same vein, we talk about and demonstrate shared household and work responsibilities between my husband and I. My daughter knows I work full-time and run a website. “Mommy, how many visitors did you get this week?” She asks me all the time, then gives me a huge high-five as I tell her, “We’re killin’ it!”
It’s going to take way more than some pink gowns and a pair of fairy wings to pigeon-hole my babies. I’m focusing less on their chosen attire and more on their overall exposure and my overall messaging. I know they’ll end up whoever they’re supposed to be – princess, pirate or both.
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It’s sick season. That means, in pediatrician offices across the country, there are lots of congested, coughing kids (and lots of worried parents). I’ve compiled some parenting tips on how to get through the sick season with your kids.
I’ve officially joined the ranks of all those snot-covered, sleep-deprived moms and dads this month (I’ve been part of the toddler tantrum crew for months –– for help on those, get our free guide here). Four weeks ago, my littlest came down with Croup and spent three nights hacking away like a baby seal. I came home from work to her lying on the rug in my living room, curled up in a tiny ball, clutching a stuffed animal while my husband rubbed her back. Then, New Year’s Day, she wound up in Urgent Care after waking from a nap with a 103 fever and labored breathing, bless her little heart.
Needless to say, the mama inside me outweighed my medical degree both of those evenings. I had to force my mind to “think like a pediatrician.” I also had to take a deep breath and try NOT to think about all the work I would inevitably miss, the wasted childcare dollars I would no doubt forfeit and the sleepless nights I was bound to encounter before she recovered from her respiratory illness.
It made me think, as I reminded myself to stay objective, of all the sick kid parenting pearls I try to share with my patients’ parents in clinic week after week, but especially during sick season:
Follow your gut.
If you are worried about your child, call someone. Make an appointment. Get them in front of a medical professional. You know your kid best so, if they seem off to you, listen to that little voice inside your head telling you to take action. Pediatricians aren’t irritated when a parent wants their child to be seen “just to be sure everything is okay.” Actually, we would much rather that than the alternative – a serious condition gone unchecked. Kids tend to rally well at first with sickness but then can crash pretty fast. It’s better to get the parenting tips you need early on so you don’t get to a more critical point.
If you’re a new parent, that may mean you call as soon as your child gets a small cough. No problem. Your doctor or their nurse can guide you through what to expect and what to do- consider it your sick kid mini-education. As you get more and more experienced, you’ll gain confidence, you’ll know the basic ways to handle minor illnesses and you likely won’t need as much assistance.
Whenever possible, you want a medical provider caring for your child who really knows their stuff – someone trained specifically in pediatrics (obviously, if you are on vacation or in an emergency situation, that’s not always realistic). When you do have a choice, choose pediatric-trained providers so they can get the most accurate medical history possible and can provide the most up-to-date care.
Understand Honesty is Important and Details Matter.
If your child has had a fever for one day or for five days, those are completely different situations, each of which triggers different levels of testing and medical interventions, depending on age. As I sat in the urgent care clinic with my daughter last week and watched a practitioner shrug a little when I said she had just developed her fever, it was tempting to try to sell how bad her illness was. Sometimes, I know, it feels like elaborating a tiny bit to get the attention of medical providers will help when it comes to a sick kid, but that can backfire. You don’t want your child to have extra bloodwork, imaging (X-rays, etc) or medications when they don’t need them. It can lead to unnecessary and sometimes harmful side effects and even hospitalizations.
Believe That We Believe You.
I cannot count the number of times someone has brought their febrile child into my office, completely miserable, so that I can see how sick they really are. No fever-reducers on board, the poor kids and their parents must have had a horrible time on their car ride over to clinic. But there’s no need to show us your child at their worst. It’s fine to give your son or daughter acetaminophen or ibuprofen (these medications can be age- and condition-dependent – check with your health professional if you’re not sure) before your doctor’s visit. In fact, the best way for medical professionals to accurately assess how your child is doing can be to see them WITHOUT THE FEVER when possible, since they sometimes look worse than they actually are when febrile.
Use Antibiotics Judiciously.
Sometimes, a parent will seem disappointed when I tell them their child has an upper respiratory infection (aka a cold) and doesn’t need antibiotics. Remember, it’s a GOOD thing if there isn’t a need for extra medicine. You don’t want antibiotics unless you really need them.
Every drug has side effects and, if we give antibiotics for colds, the medication:
Doesn’t change a thing about how fast a child gets better.
May give them issues with diarrhea.
Contributes to antibiotic resistance (when an antibiotic stops working against the bacteria it was designed to treat and makes it harder and harder to treat serious illnesses).
It’s hard to wait out a viral illness, letting the storm pass until the sun comes out again, but it’s worth it to concentrate on comfort care if your doctor prescribes it versus fighting for an unnecessary medicine.
Accept Illnesses Can Change Quickly.
When we see you in the office, we’re catching your child at a moment in time. We hear about what has happened so far and we base our diagnosis on our exam that day. It’s one data point. Often, though, an illness can change within hours or days and, without a crystal ball, it’s impossible to predict which direction a sickness will go. It’s not surprising to us when we need to schedule a re-check appointment to make sure things are improved or when a parent calls us back to say a child is still sick. That’s why we give so many contingency after-visit instructions. Most of the time, we can solve an issue with one evaluation but it can take a bit more complex problem-solving with multiple visits at other times.
Find a Provider Who Welcomes Your Questions.
Part of my job as a pediatrician is to make sure I translate all the medicalese for my patients and their parents, assuring they leave with a solid understanding of what’s wrong with their child and what they can expect as they recover. I know it is sometimes terrifying (or sometimes just super inconvenient) to have a sick kid and that parents need answers and explanations. I’m used to it. ALL doctors are. So, ask away. Clarify. Pull out the list of worries. Let us know the underlying issues (like, “When will my child be better and when will I be able to go back to work?”). We’re all ears and, in the end, it’s easier for all of us to be on the same page from the get-go than to let frustration or confusion play a role in your child’s illness.
I’m not gonna lie – having sick kids is one of the most challenging parts of modern parenting. The schedule re-arranging, the miserable little one, the scary unknowns of illness – it all adds up. Remember, pediatricians know how hard it is to care for sick children (I do it myself all the time!) and we want your child to get better as fast as possible, too. Access the resources you have, get the answers you need. Above all, follow your gut – if you’re worried, get help (or just peace of mind). ’Tis the season for sickies and sickness and you’re not alone in just checking to make sure everything is alright.
Want more resources for caring for your kids and for yourself? Click here to get our free toddler and mommy self-care guides.
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Nothing strikes fear in the hearts of fun-loving, relaxation-seeking parents like a family vacation (or a holiday trip) with babies and toddlers. So much can go right- chances for adventure, opportunities to re-connect and to re-charge. But SOOOOO much can go wrong: cranky kids (by the way, if you’re looking for help with toddler tantrums, check out our free toddler tantrum guide here), flight delays, unexpected illness. It can be overwhelming to even start to consider taking your little ones on more than a local jaunt. I’m not about to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on a leisure trip if it feels way more stressful than leisurely.
So, is it even worth it to try? Definitely!! Family vacations are an amazing way to build memories, to model self-care and to get out of your day-to-day grind with your kids.
Just make sure you follow these parenting tips on how to keep your troupe safe and sane on your family vacation:
1. Bring Help Whenever Possible. (THIS.)
When we went to Hawaii last spring with our then eight-month-old baby and three-year-old toddler, we decided to bring our nanny with us. At first, we felt really embarrassed we were planning it that way. It was a little “too rich for our blood,” my husband said. He barely mentioned it to his family when they asked how we were going to juggle both kids, two flights and our desire to actually relax once we got to our island destination.
But, after we came back, he could not contain himself about what a completely different experience we would have had without her. I’m so glad we made the decision to set aside our pride. We did the simple math on affordability and made a choice that worked for us. In the end, it cost us about $500 more on an eight-day trip to have her come along (since we would have been paying for her to care for our kids anyway during that week based on our contract with her).
This year when we go on a family vacay, we’re bringing grandma # 1 for the first week and grandma #2 for the second. It’ll be an even more cost-effective way to actually meet our trip-away goals.
I can already feel my blood pressure lowering as we arrange the details of our stay.
2. Plan Ahead for Illness and Emergencies.
Especially when you travel internationally (or to a more remote destination), don’t assume you’ll be able to find the medications or the products you need. Bring ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and diphenhydramine (Benadryl) when appropriate (plus know your child’s dose). Pack a first aid kit, plus diaper creams and a sunblock you trust. Make sure you remember a thermometer, plus the normal soaps, shampoos, and lotions your child’s body is used to. In my pediatric office. we see countless patients come back from trips with skin irritation and rashes from using hotel-brand products.
Before you go, look into how to access care in case of emergency or in case of mild illness. If you book on sites like Airbnb or Kid & Coe (an awesome site where you can find dream vacation stays designed specifically with kids’ needs in mind), take advantage of your host’s knowledge of the local area and the local healthcare system.
Get an international phone plan so you can access family or make phone calls for help if necessary. Familiarize yourself with Google Translate so, if you are stuck with a language barrier, you can communicate more effectively.
3. Pack Efficiently.
I tend to overpack. I want to make sure I have all the items I need everywhere I go. The upside? I’m ready for most anything. The downside? Usually, I can hardly find the one item I really need as I sift through all the junk I stuffed into my heavy suitcase. This year, I’ve learned to pare it down and lighten my load. It makes it easier in the car, on the airplane and throughout the airport. The less you lug and the more efficiently you lug it the better.
4. Pick An Itinerary That Matches Your Child’s Temperament.
It might sound like a good idea to travel around the world with your two-year-old and it very well might be. But if your two-year-old is temperamental (or is just typical), think it through before you buy the tickets. On a smaller scale, we have plenty of discussions in my house before a big trip about how to get from Point A to Point B with the least amount of drama. For every adult-focused activity on our vacations, we plan a kid-focused activity. We know when to call it quits on our itinerary, even if we’ve already bought the museum entrance tickets and it feels like we’re wasting our hard-earned money. Dragging yourself through an experience is not a trip, it’s just annoying. No one gives out medals at the end for “Biggest Vacation Martyr.”
5. Understand That No Good Trip Goes Unpunished.
Brace yourself a little for some sleep deprivation and some minor illnesses once you come back from your vacation. If you can, plan ahead so you have a recovery day at the end of your adventure to just catch up on laundry and get the house and yourselves back in order. Anticipate you might have to use your down day to tend to things you forgot to take care of while you were away or that came up when you returned.
I love traveling with my daughters and I rarely have regrets when I think back on the trips we’ve taken as a family. Some vacations, though, have definitely been better than others. It serves us all well to plan ahead, expect some unavoidable hiccups and keep it simple as much as possible. Happy family vacationing and holiday trip planning!
Going out to eat when you’re on vacation? Read more here about happy restaurant visits.
Wondering hour to handle your kids at home? Check out our free toddler tantrum guide, here.
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Last year at this time, I was freaking out. My daughter, bless her soul, started having some major outbursts and I didn’t know why. Tantrum after toddler tantrum (by the way you can check out our free tantrum guide here), day after day, night after night. We watched her go from absolute sweetheart to total terror at the drop of a hat. She wouldn’t eat, complained she “just didn’t feel good” and started shying away from school, dance, and friends- all things she had previously loved.
We were worried there was something seriously wrong.
It took over a month to figure out what was going on. After weeks of tears (on our part and hers), we finally got a handle on the issue. In the end, it turned out she had a case of nasty PINWORMS. She also had an exaggerated dread of potty training that culminated in a huge mess of a situation. (I am gonna spare you the details because even I gagged a little when it all went down.)
The point is, I spent a lot of time last year racking my brain as to what the heck was happening to the little sensitive soul that lives in my house. She had always been unique but this was on a whole different level, even for her.
In that month, there were nights I stayed awake feeling scared that my little girl was not ever going to be the same as she once was and a WHOLE LOT OF TIME missing her “true” self.
It came to my mind today as we were driving home from her grandma’s house. I looked back in my rearview window and saw her quietly humming along, looking out at the leaved trees passing by her car window. It was the perfect picture of peace and contentment. It brought me back to that “aha” moment when we eventually figured out what was (literally) bugging her so much. To the grateful look in her eyes when we finally explained what was keeping her up all night and what had made her act like a completely different person. To that huge wave of relief I saw passing over her as she listened to us say that, if she took some medicine, she would be herself again.
The car ride also was a good reminder to look for her real self in the relatively common moments she still, as a function of her age or her circumstances (tired, anxious, missing a snack), goes back intermittently to that scary state. It can be easy for us to forget when our children are acting out or are out of sorts. We can forget that they may have a very good reason for it. That there is something we need to detective out (or wait out).
That their real selves have gone hiding.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve had to either 1. Sing James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain” under my breath as I wait for my child’s toddler tantrum to pass or 2. Act like the scientist I am and try to think objectively through the situation to find a root cause. I’ll admit, the Pinworm thing was quite a challenge since it presented in a totally off way and it’s something that, in retrospect, I probably would have caught faster if I hadn’t been trying to catch it in my own kid (yes, she does have a pediatrician – don’t worry- it just all snowballed pretty quickly).
I know I’m not alone on this.
It’s true for the parents of the wayward, rebellious adolescent who one day “snaps out” of the angry teenage phase. It’s true for the mom of the suddenly inconsolable six-month-old who eventually pops a tooth. We all deal with the feeling that our kid is not themselves sometimes. It tempts us to forget the core of who they really are. We get scared that the phase will never pass, that this could be our new normal.
In our family, we learned a lot last year about how to get mindful and about how to get outside help when we needed it. (Note: if you are in a situation where you really can’t figure out what’s going on with your child, ask your doctor for help so they can come along side you to rule out anything major.)
We also learned about giving grace when we’re not at OUR bests as well.
We understood better in the end about trying to see every one of the people we come in contact with as products of nature (the genes we’re born with, the way we’re wired) AND nurture (the product of the environmental stressors or positives that surround us).
Our kids are so often trying their hardest but coming up against factors they just cannot control or understand themselves. It’s up to us as parents to help them navigate, to give them the space and support they need, and to love them no matter what. We need to believe that their true selves are just waiting to be found. We just need to look in their, sometimes less obvious, hiding places.
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I love good food. Like, homemade pasta with seasonal veggies and quality meat, paired with the crispest, coldest Italian wine. That kind of love. So, of course, I hoped that my daughters would absolutely love good food, too. That, as adults, they would appreciate the complexities of flavor from different regions of the world. That, as toddlers, they would not “ruin” my life by only trying three things on any given menu.
I meet a lot of kids in clinic who are that way. Picky eaters to the core. Where they have a family meal together, the only things the kids will touch are bread, butter and pasta with cheese. Hardly any vegetables. Hardly any fruit. Absolutely no sauces. It would take an Act of Congress to get those kids to eat anything with pepper or spice. Their parents are often, understandably, at their wits’ end.
About 50% of my patients’ parents say they have a hard time with pickiness. At first, it all went well. As a baby, their child would take anything they gave them. But slowly, over time, they became more resistant.
A lot comes back to temperament. For easy-going kids, their experience at the dinner table can also be easy going. For stubborn children, the dinner table can be another opportunity for a power struggle (if you’re looking for behavior help at home or away, sign up for our toddler tantrum guide here).
But, even taking temperament into account, even the most laid-back kids and parents sometimes butt heads when it comes to food. While there is no easy answer for dinner-time (or lunch- or breakfast-time) battles, there are some steps parents can take to encourage adventurous eating and to avoid head-on collisions with their kids in this sometimes-challenging area.
What To Do:
Offer As Many Varied Foods As Possible From an Early Age.
There are no “adult” flavors and “kid” flavors, just kid and adult consistencies. Why not offer mushrooms, eggplant, artichokes, kale, yams or onions? The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends starting solid foods at four to six months, closer to six months if possible. They also recommend waiting two to three days between new foods to observe for allergic reactions. But, starting at six months, there are no limitations on what these foods can be (except no honey until one year of age for Botulism risk and no cups of cow’s milk until 11 months old), just on watching out for choking risk. In fact, the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology now recommends even highly allergenic foods like shellfish, dairy and eggs be introduced earlier versus later.
We know that food preferences start even within the womb. The foods that pregnant women and lactating women consume strongly affect the palate of their offspring. It makes sense, then, that giving our kids a variety of healthy foods from an early age also influences their willingness to eat them later on.
Don’t Give Up Too Soon.
An expression of disgust does not predict a life of hatred. My daughter’s first food was avocado. We have pictures of her sweet little face just covered in it at six months, with a look of utter displeasure. She spit that food out as fast as we could get it to her lips. Of course, I didn’t force it on her that day, but every week I re-introduced a small amount as part of the other foods I offered. At one year of age, we have another picture of her face covered in a green gooey mess, this time with a look of complete glee. Avocado became and still is her favorite food to eat. Experts say it can take 20 to 30 exposures before an affinity develops for a new flavor.
Avoid the Kid Menu.
Does it ever strike you as odd that, even at a relatively nice restaurant, the children’s menu has the most unhealthy options available? Chicken strips, french fries, buttered noodles – this is the stuff we are offering our children? At the grocery store, in brightly-colored packages, are sugary cereals, salty crackers and juice boxes – foods that would make us tired and cranky if we ate them all day. Instead, offer the food on your plate to your kids.
Model Good Behavior.
That might mean adjusting what food is on your plate. It won’t work to have you order a cheeseburger and a soda every time you go out as a family if you want your kids to do the opposite. You may need to take stock of what you are consuming. If you do attempt to order or eat healthy foods yourself, sharing what you have allows your children to see quality food as normal. Dads are especially important when it comes to setting a healthy eating example.
Consider Their Age.
There will come a time when almost every child becomes a somewhat picky eater. They are supposed to. This is the way we protect ourselves evolutionarily. In a toddler’s mind, green = poisonous plant = bad. So, if you have a toddler and this is your reality, this is the moment you’ve been preparing for. The mantra you’ll have to tell yourself? Roll with it.
Remind Yourself of the Responsibilities You and Your Child Each Bring To the Table.
As a parent, your responsibility is to provide healthy options for your child in consistent intervals during the day. As a child, your responsibility is to choose how much of any given food you eat at any given time. If your child decides they don’t want the green beans tonight? That’s okay. Let them eat what they want off the plate. Just don’t offer a replacement food when they won’t eat them and DEFINITELY don’t use them as a reward for dessert. You can read more about division of responsibility when it comes to food in Fearless Feeding, my favorite book about pediatric food psychology.
Finally, remember that, like all things parenting-related, most kids and parents hit jags every once in awhile. Our goal is not to have perfectly-trained kids who eat everything you want them to all day every day, just like our goal is not to have perfectly-behaved children at all times. Instead, let’s focus on helping our little ones become adults who love great food. (Note: if you’re having a particularly hard time with picky eating and you’ve tried all of my tricks above, ask your pediatrician for more help!)
I hope my kids will share my enthusiasm for Italian (and French and Japanese) cooking, but I hope even more that they don’t have complicated hang-ups about what they eat and don’t develop a rebellious attitude toward food. Let’s raise individuals who savor what they consume, who use it as fuel to drive their lives and who have the freedom to enjoy it fully.
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The information in our articles, on our website and in our courses are NOT intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and are not intended as medical advice.