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Kid Quandaries: From Positive Reinforcement to Potty Power and Beyond!

Nov 30, 2016 02:00PM ● By Cate Reynolds
By Lisa J. Gotto

If you are a parent of a young child, or even a grandparent, you know there are childhood habits that vex you, rattle you, and may even keep you up at night. There is no doubt that our lifestyles today present a unique set of challenges that we didn’t experience ourselves as kids, and that we are having to deal with, in some cases, for the first time. And then there are those more traditional kid quandaries that keep parents guessing.

In an effort to clear up at least some of the nagging doubts you have about your parental prowess, we consulted with Jeffrey Nold, DO, of Bayside Pediatrics in Annapolis, and got his take on what it takes to raise today’s child.

What is your advice when it comes to giving young children access to electronics? How soon? What do you feel are the pros and cons of this practice?

Nold feels that prior to school age, there is no significant benefit of screen time.

“Babies and young children develop best when parents spend quality time reading, talking, playing, and laughing,” Nold says. “Once they start learning (letters and numbers…etc.) there can be benefits from (watching) educational shows like Sesame Street.

“Once school starts, there should be a maximum of one to two hours of screen time during the school day. The remainder of the day should be spent on school work/educational work, and exercise.”

How long is too long to be carrying around an item that represents security, such as a blanket or teddy bear?

“Security items are just that—they offer the child a little extra in a world that can be overwhelming and scary. It is typically felt that by kindergarten, maturation should take place,” Nold explains. “Most people feel that it is socially inappropriate to outwardly demonstrate an emotional need. However, many young people appropriately keep their security item close at home, in their room, for years.”

In your opinion, what is the optimal age at which a child should be potty-trained? What would you say to a parent who feels their child is long overdue achieving this milestone?

“Most children under age two are concrete thinkers and don’t understand [the concept of] the potty, so potty training is just like training a dog,” Nold explains. “They go because they like the reward, not because they care about a wet diaper. By about age two-and-a-half most children are more conceptual and can understand holding urine and stool and going in a potty. Once children are conceptual, they love power. So a child that is close to age three and not training as well is gaining power over parents—usually because parents are putting too much emphasis on training.” This results in a child feeling he is being rewarded because he has controlled his parents. “Potty training should be fun and exciting. If it isn’t, then back off. All children will potty train when you give them the power to decide when they stay dry.”

What are your positions on thumb sucking and the use of pacifiers? What are the consequences of these behaviors if they continue too long?

“Thumb sucking and pacifiers are very powerful calming agents that can be lifesaving for parents in the newborn stage,” Nold says the longer they are used, however, the greater the chance for deformity of the (mouth) arch and teeth. Optimally, they should be removed before age two. “The sooner parents can get rid of them, the better and easier it is. Unfortunately, it is very hard [to eliminate] thumb sucking. There are some studies that show the negative pressure of continuous sucking can increase risks for ear infections and speech delay.”

Many parents allow children to sleep in their master bedrooms on a regular basis. What advice do you give to parents who practice this? At what age should sleeping in one’s own room be accomplished on a regular basis?

“During the newborn phase, it can be dangerous to have the baby in bed. Mothers are exhausted and babies can easily suffocate. After four to six months, babies need to learn how to be independent sleepers,” explains Nold. “The longer they are in their parent’s bed, the harder it will be to get them out.”

When children are older and have bad dreams, Nold says, it is okay to let them fall back to sleep in your bed, but the child should be returned to his own bed once he has fallen back to sleep. “Babies and children who are allowed to learn to fall asleep and stay asleep independently grow up to be more independent older children and are more able to deal with fears and changing situations that will arise.”

What do you say to parents of young children who ask you about the wearable trackers available today? What is your personal opinion of these devices?

“There are some children who have a tendency to run—and toddlers do not understand danger and reasons for rules.” Nold feels that it is not inappropriate to protect your child from running by securing them with a restraint, or in a stroller, or using one of the new GPS trackers. “As much as people do not want to be seen as ‘restraining’ their child, a parent should never worry about what others think; the alternative is too devastating.”

Need to know more? Get our pediatrician’s insights on breastfeeding, temper tantrums, and more, online here.

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