Category Archives: behavior

what we’re doing

I’m going to say something very obvious to most of my readers: being a parent is hard. There is so much information out there, and there are so many theories that it can be nearly impossible to know what is really “right” at any given moment, especially because what may be right for one set of children may not be right at all for one’s own child.

Because we spent so many years planning to have a child, my wife and I spent a long time theorizing, developing strategies, thinking we’d figure out all of the hard stuff in advance. Certainly with enough brainpower, we could dodge tantrums and outbursts. We’d have an advantage over all those poor parents who got pregnant by accident. Of course, reality is, that wasn’t the case. One can rarely predict just how these parenting tools are going to work because there’s always that x-factor: the kid. The kid can change everything.

Like so many parents, my wife and I just assumed that once behavior issues arose, we’d use time-outs, and they would work, and that would be that. We started using them when BG would bite or pull a tail sometime after his first birthday. We didn’t use them often (really only the tail pulling seemed to warrant it), but they were effective enough. However, because we are always trying to evolve as parents, always considering new perspectives and possibilities, I began to find through my reading that time-outs were maybe a little more problematic than I had ever considered, so we essentially stopped using them. We tried the praising of positive behavior, and more recently, “time-ins” (where one of us essentially takes a time-out with him until whatever issue were were having passes). Honestly, though, we’ve had little in our toolbox when it comes to discipline, and as a result, we have a child who has been flailing a bit. In fact, we have been flailing so much, I can honestly admit we’ve had not much in the way of discipline at all. We had lots of “No hitting!” and “We don’t bite,” but these did precious little to stop our son because he was testing one boundary after another and finding that there weren’t really many there.

As I’ve been trying to find solutions to our aggression problem, I’ve started reading some new material, the first of which has been John Medina’s Brain Rules for Baby. This is a great book for anyone interested in exploring a bit of developmental neuroscience. It’s great, and it’s common sense, and it’s just what I needed to see where I was going wrong with helping my child develop his moral center. So, we’re back to time-outs.

I do believe that for many children and families, time-outs may be all wrong, that they may prove harmful even, but in a home where attachment parenting has been practiced, where a child has a strong, confident attachment to his parents, where he has a good deal of quality attention from both parents each day (we still don’t have him in any sort of daycare), I think a time-out sort of approach can be used with better results. The idea that a child will feel alienated by a time-out approach, that s/he will feel removed and excluded from the family is one that could hold ground, and especially for a younger child, one who doesn’t grasp cause and effect well yet, one whose attachment may not yet be strong. However, I’m beginning to realize that doesn’t have to be the case. So we have implemented abbreviated time-outs. BG hits, we take him very calmly and lovingly to his room. Let him know he’s having a timeout because he hit, and we don’t hit because it hurts. We close the door, and leave him in there no longer than a minute, and then talk with him briefly about why hitting is wrong (it hurts people), and then we move on. It took no more than two days of this before he slowed down on the hitting. I even saw him stop his hand mid-air a few times. He’s starting to think about his behavior. He’s beginning to control his impulses.

I’m not saying we’ve found a perfect solution because we still have some behavior issues, but what I have found is that our inconsistency in discipline was harming our family and was sending our son some serious mixed messages. My next book that I’m very excited about is called The Whole-Brain Child (Siegel and Bryson), and it’s amazing. It beautifully details how we can use neuroscience as parents to help our children integrate both sides of their brains, and in doing so provides some really lovely strategies for helping kids through everything from tantrums to decision-making, to aggression, and more. I’m early into it, but it’s really good stuff.

Something else I’m considering more is just how different boys are from girls–and how different some boys are from one another, especially with regard to the need for physicality. One of my theories about BG’s violent outbursts is that they are little testosterone surges. A friend’s husband told her that he could see these surges in their sons, that he has them, and that the feeling associated with them is really hard to manage. A book J and I have enjoyed since we found out we were having a boy was It’s a Boy (Barker and Thompson), a really great attachment-oriented book that details the very specific development of boys. It’s so insightful, and it covers that need boys have to be more physical, to have some rough play, but also be taught how to have rough play safely (and as one of you mentioned, it’s vital). We’re trying to honor that need to be physical a little more, and at the same time, we’re watching it carefully, tempering it with lessons on how to be gentle, how to play without hurting one another. It’s hard for someone like me who has never been into physical play to do, but it’s important because it provides an outlet for my son that he doesn’t have elsewhere.

So we’re working at it. The biting has stopped. BG is still pushing kids, but when we took a trip to Ikea a week or so ago, we talked him through an encounter with a smaller child with whom he was sharing a tunnel, and he didn’t touch him. This was a big step for a child who has a hard time with other kids in his space, but it showed us he’s malleable, that we have a chance to get this right with him early, and that maybe, just maybe we won’t be worrying about his aggression his whole life. As with so many matters in parenting, the years will certainly show us the answer.

A final note: Thank you for all of your encouragement, support, and advice. I have taken so much of it into consideration as we continue to form new strategies. It is also so helpful to know that we’re not alone in this. Anyway, thank you all for taking the time to help our little family. It means the world. xo


Filed under behavior, Boy Genius

what do we do with this?

Our son has taken increasingly aggressive turns. He hits us, bites us, kicks, us, pinches us, and now he has started hitting and pushing other children at his little activities we attend with him (kindergym, moms’ group, etc.). I am horrified. Horrified. We’re really gentle people. We don’t play fight, play bite, etc. We praise positive, gentle touching, and lately have been removing BG from us when he begins to hit/bite/pinch.

Honestly, I’m heartbroken, and while this may seem excessive, overly dramatic, but I am. I have never in my life hit another person. Never. (And I even have two younger siblings.) I can’t believe I have a child who regularly attacks me and my wife, especially because he is also incredibly sweet and compassionate. The thought that he could be pegged as “The Bad Kid” once he goes to school, that he could be pigeonholed in that way, upsets me even more (haven’t we all seen this happen? Yeah. I’m not just being paranoid.)

And it’s not like this is behavior we have ever tolerated. He has had timeouts on his own. We have had “time-ins” with him. We have had him “do over.” We have praised his positive behavior. We have told him over and over “biting hurts!” “hitting hurts!” and so on. We have read him Teeth Are Not for Biting endlessly (he loves it!).  I have cried when he has hit/bit/pinched me. And yes, we have both yelled. I hate that we have yelled, but we have.

Today, when I told him biting makes me sad, he did it again to make me sad again. So he likes that power. Lesson learned. Granted, he also likes to comfort me, but I’m not keen on this kind of cycle.

I’m at a total loss. I know this is a lack of impulse control. I know he’s got some issues with fatigue. I even know that this is often normal two-year-old behavior. I know these things, but I don’t know where to go from here, how to find the gentle boy, how to get him to dominate and to get aggressive crazy boy to simmer down.

If you have good advice on this, good resources, please share. I’m going to be reading like I’m cramming for finals until I find the strategy that works . And please, if you have an encouraging story about a kid who hit/pinched/kicked/bit and who didn’t turn out to be a big bully/social outcast/serial killer, that would be cool too. Because he’s going to be normal-ish right?


Filed under behavior

where did he go?

We have long played this version of peek-a-boo with our son where he covers himself up with a napkin, a curtain, a blanket, etc., and we say, “Where did BG go? Have you seen him? Where is he?” And then he removes the cloth to reveal that he was, in fact, there the whole time, and we all giggle wildly. We have always loved the game, but it seems that the game and our realities are becoming a little blurred.

With our son’s sleep deprivation (some nights waking up every hour for five hours!), the work he’s doing on his last two two-year molars, his transition into a regular bed, and his other transition away from daytime nursing, it’s as though our smiley, mellow, eager-to-please little boy has hidden himself away, and in his place, we see daily this crabby, irritable, boundary-testing, mom-hitting, book-throwing, tantrum-having child. Occasionally, he peaks out from beneath his hiding place to giggle and snuggle, but then moments later, the two monster comes roaring back to tell me I’m not allowed to sing or wear glasses or cross my legs or say, “I love you.” And then he kicks me.

Having spent a lot of years taking care of toddlers, and several when I cared almost exclusively for two-year-olds, I know this is normal, especially given this specific set of circumstances, but it’s so hard to be the parent of one of these creatures.

Take clothing changes, for example. We used to change clothes with a good deal of ease. He would get dressed after a bath with no problems, and he would gladly have his clothes changed, especially if he had spilled something. Today, he spilled water on himself, and he asked me to change his clothes. We then proceeded to struggle for the next thirty minutes to change his clothes–and these were clothes that he had chosen. Oh, it’s exhausting. Just giving the kid a beverage is mind boggling. He has never fought simply drinking, but now there are like fifty criteria that must be in place before he will not fling the beverage across the room and disintegrate into tears and whining.

And oh, the whining! It’s endless. It’s obnoxious. It’s so frustrating!

I should say, though, that we have a few little glimmers of hope. We have been working hard at getting our cute little monster (did I mention he glares at us and that it’s really hard not to laugh?) to communicate what he’s upset about. A week or so ago, he told me for the first time that something was frustrating him (I believe it was a whisk). Now, he tells us what frustrates him a little more regularly. This week, he has started to tell us when he is mad at us, and in the past few days, he has told us why he is mad. Tonight we were sitting down for his pre-bedtime stories, and he kept hitting my wife. He didn’t want to read. He just wanted to hit her. Finally after a few minutes of us sitting there baffled, waiting for our normal son to return, he told my wife, “BG mad at Mama that bathtime is over!” Aha. She apologized to him for ending his bath and asked him to forgive her. He kissed her, hugged her, and was then ready to read stories, especially once I offered a bath in the morning. This was fairly illustrative of where we are right now, but this I can understand. Until he has the words to express his feelings, he’s going to stew in them, and will grapple with them as any little wild animal would–with physical expressions.

The fact that we’re beginning to talk about feelings is a little mindblowing to me, but I see–or rather hope–that this is going to work in our favor soon, that the outbursts and throwing of objects and kicking and hitting may soon decrease in favor of more verbal expressions of his feelings. I know we’re in for more challenges and tantrums, but to be able to communicate about them, even afterward, makes such a difference.

Whether or not this endless game of peek-a-boo will be over once the teeth come in, and we start sleeping through the night again, and he’s used to his big boy accommodations is something I cannot predict. I can say, however, that I miss my happy little jokester


Filed under behavior, Boy Genius

these are some deep trenches

For the past few nights since our son’s transition to his new bed, we’ve gotten less and less sleep. He wakes up and won’t go back to sleep for these long periods. He wants to get out of bed. He wants me to hold him and dance him and hug him. He wants everything but sleep. Because he is not held prisoner anymore, he can also get up. One night, we caught him sleep walking. When he opened his door, I bolted into the hallway only to herd him back to his bed where he laid down, eyes closed, and continued sleeping.

I’m also sick.

On Tuesday night/Wendesday morning, BG slept like crap. This was a night of two lengthy wake-ups (one was nearly two hours of me trying to get him to stay in his bed, stop sreaming, and go back to sleep) and the sleepwalking. I had worked until midnight. BG woke up for the day at 5:30. The last remnants of BG’s breastfeeding have been first thing in the morning and just before bed, so my wife brought him to me to nurse in hopes that I might sleep a bit more and extend his sleep too. I was desparate for more sleep after three hours of very interrupted sleep that night. Shortly after my wife left for work, my son started pinching me, scratching at me, and finally, as I was blocking his little claws, he bit down. Hard.

I yelped, then immediately placed BG on the other side of the bed, and put pressure on my very sore breast as I snapped, “No Biting!” He looked surprised but didn’t try to nurse again. He knew something had gone awry, but in his sleep-deprived crazy state, I’m not sure he new quite what. Not wanting to dwell in the moment, he told me it was time to get up and make coffee. I reluctantly agreed. It was, after all, not even 6:30. I pulled back the blankets and began to stand up when I noticed a half-dollar-sized spot of bright red blood on the front of my shirt. My nipple was bleeding and hurting. I started crying. My son laughed at the red spot on my shirt. I cried a little harder. I told him “na-na” was very hurt. That his bite had caused a “big owie.” He was ready to move on. I was hurt. The sting and ache of the cut was one thing, but I also felt betrayed by my son.

He has nipped me before, typically when he’s been teething. One time previously he bit a little hard and left me with a bit of an injury, but this was far worse. This drew blood. This was the result of being irritated with me, with losing control. I could hardly relate to him all day, but I had to. I was on my own with him most of the day, and he and I were both in rare from (and by this, I mean we were crazy with fatigue). All morning, he cried and whined and fought me over and over. I had no tools to cope with this small tyrant who had invaded my son’s body. All my patience had been used up in the middle of the night. Finally, I sat down on found an episdoe of Sesame Street. I sped through the segments he didn’t like–the things that made him frustrated again–and I snuggled with him during the segments he liked. But then he started kicking and smacking the computer. I had to shut down the one bit of respite I had found. This catapulted him into a full-blown tantrum. I thought a bath might calm us both down, but this made it worse. He didn’t want a bath, he didn’t want me to give him a bath. I’m pretty sure he didn’t want to be in his own skin. I was summoning every speck of patience I had ever known. I dressed him, put on some music, and danced him down to his nap.

I collapsed on the sofa, and my cat joined me. I watched some bad television and finally fell asleep. My boy slept for nearly two hours, and I awoke from my own nap to him smiling over me.

When my wife finally came home, I had to take our cat to the vet. Earlier, I had found a giant absess on his back, and he had to go in. I never imagined going to the vet would be a means of getting some time to myself, but it was important–both to help the cat get well and to help me find some sanity. When I had to leave the cat at the vet for surgery and put down nearly three hundred dollars that we absolutely don’ thave, I nearly lost it.

I was reeling from the day, knowing that I was going to have to take the next big step toward weaning. So far, this process has been slow but natural. We’ve eliminated more and more nursing until these last two bookends have remained, but I’ll no longer be nursing my son in the morning. Our bedtime nursing will be all that is left, and that won’t be much longer either. I’m afraid of him biting me again, and I don’t want that. I don’t want to be tense with my son. I don’t want this event to color how I feel about him. I just never expected the end to start this way.

Today has proven better, albeit challenging in a new way. BG is quite sick and has been fighting a horrid fever all day. We had to pick the cat up from the vet and care for him all day. My two boys–my son and my cat–have required everything from me, and somehow I have had it to give. I’m tapped now. I have no idea how I’ll finish my work for the week, how I’ll get to spend time with my wife, where time for myself will come in. I can only live each moment hoping reprieve and strength and grace will come soon.


Filed under behavior, breastfeeding

when push comes to shove

My son has started pushing other children. He just isn’t around other kids enough to know how not to be an oaf. A mom from our mom’s group came over with her two kids today, and BG pushed them both multiple times. J and I were horrified. Where did he learn to do that? Why was he doing it? Fortunately, the mom was fine, as were the very easy-going kids, but really, where did this come from?

My theory is that he was tired and crabby and not ready for kids to come in and play with his toys, but even so, I am not really sure what to do about this. He is normally so loving. He’s typically the kid who walks up to another kid to give unwelcome hugs, not shoves.

I know he’s bumbling his way through being around other children, that he’s learning very slowly what it is to be a social creature, but it’s hard to see him do this, especially when we’re all trying to make friends. Please tell me this will pass, that there’s some sort of magic trick to give him social grace.


Filed under behavior, Boy Genius

more on timeouts + a family of sailors

Thanks for all of your thoughtful responses on timeouts. It seems that many of you have used them in a number of contexts with plenty of success, which is great! I also noted that there were a number of poll respondents who did not use them at all, but none of you responded! I’m curious about your reasoning and methods for guiding behavior at this age too if you’re interested in adding to the discussion.

We are at a place where we are exploring other options for discipline beyond the timeout. J and I are both of the philosophy that these new generations of kids are wired differently, that the old positive/negative reinforcement approaches aren’t necessarily as effective on the whole. So we’re trying our modifications. The “timeout right here” is usually BG-enforced, and it’s typically a quick reset, after which we can talk about why the behavior was problematic. This happened yesterday when he bit me while nursing. I set him next to me, and he said, “Timeout right here!” I said, “Yes, BG.” I took a moment to compose myself while he reset, and then we chatted about his behavior. Right now, those chats are primarily about cause and effect. “When you bite, you hurt Mommy!” “When you throw food, it makes a mess!” (He doesn’t like messes.) Honestly, these little chats are really helpful because they get him to start processing–maybe not in any sort of complex way, but kids his age do understand cause and effect, so playing to his strengths seems to be the thing to do right now.

We’re also trying something else we’ve read about, which is sort of this do-over approach. BG has a nasty habit of throwing food on the floor when he doesn’t want it. Today, he did this with a couple of crackers. I picked the crackers up, and put them back on the table. I said, “BG, you know we don’t throw food on the floor. Now, try again. When you don’t want your food, put it in this bowl.” He put the crackers in the bowl. Tonight, when he had some tomatoes he didn’t want, J and I watched in amazement while he placed them in the bowl we had left on the table. We have had perfectly executed timeouts on the food on the floor issue with no results. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but today, the Mulligan was just the thing to make this lesson click.

So perhaps you can see why we’re interested in different approaches. If you’ve got others, feel free to share here!


And now for some adult behavior modification.

My wife is a former sailor. It’s true–sort of. She was in the Navy (okay, so she served entirely on land), and true to form, she has a mouth like, well, a sailor. I have nagged her on more than one occasion to be careful about her language around BG, and in the past year since he has started picking up language, she has gotten increasingly better. More and more her “damns” have been replaced with “darns.” She has come up with creative names to call bad drivers (which explains why we talk a lot about asscots and jackals in the car). She really has done a good job, and I’m proud of her!

I too have long been fond of choice expletives. I have always been able to switch that off, but there are times when I lose my filter. Generally around BG I’ve been pretty good. The car, however, is my one exception. I’m not one to experience road rage really. Instead, I get upset with myself, especially now that we’re living amongst many more people (drivers) than I’ve ever experienced on a regular basis.

Well, the other day in the car, we were pulling across a particularly hairy intersection, and I missed seeing a car that was coming up on us in our lane. It was a freaky little moment (and the car actually slowed to let me in, but that’s irrelevant), and in that freaky little moment, I let it slip: a quiet but audible, Fuck!

My son started giggling uncontrollably. And then, out of his perfect little mouth came, “Fuck! Mommy say fuck! Fuck! Fuck!” And the giggles continued.

I was in the process of recovering from this near-miss in traffic, but all the blood that had just drained out of my face in fear returned to my face in utter shame. Fuck.

A moment later, BG said, “Thunk!” Which is his queue to flip the driver’s side visor (he likes the sound). J said, “That’s right! Mommy said, ‘Thunk!'” BG giggled again. “Mommy say fuck!

I thought I might die. We didn’t react at all. We both stayed silent, just totally silent and poker-faced for as long as we could (although admittedly stifling laughter), and occasionally reinforced the idea that I had said, “Thunk.” Eventually we moved on, and we hadn’t heard anything from him about it in a couple of days.

Today, my wife confessed to me that she had a moment of frustration when she was with BG today, and she blurted out, “Damnit!” Well, our little parrot apparently began spouting, “Damnit! Damnit!” and then seconds later, not skipping a beat, said, “Mommy say fuck!”

So, um, no, he hasn’t forgotten the word, nor that I’ve said it. He knows it’s a “special” sort of word, and he loves it, despite the fact that we haven’t given him any reaction about it to indicate its power. Certainly it will lose its allure at some point, I keep thinking, but no. No it won’t. It clearly hasn’t for me.

We have truly entered a new era with our son. I adore how verbal he is, but oh. my. god. And next weekend we’re going to see my parents and probably my grandmother, and all I can think is that he’s going to tell them, “Mommy say fuck!”

And he will be right.






Filed under behavior, discipline, language


My poor neglected blog. I miss writing here, but my work has picked up, and I can’t seem to spend much more time on the computer. It is summer after all, and we need to be outside playing before my wife has to begin teaching.

We’re less than a month away from BG’s second birthday. He is beginning to show signs of what we are calling around here the “trying twos.” He now regularly flips out when being placed in his car seat, so much so that we have had to sit while he screams and writhes for up to fifteen minutes before relenting just enough to be strapped in (although not enough to stop crying or screaming usually). In these moments, J and I find ourselves wondering where our sweet son has gone. It’s more than a little terrifying to see this boy who has been so mellow begin to do this, but I understand it’s normal, and I’m sure we’ll find a way to manage. In the meantime, if you have any advice, we welcome it!

We are doing pretty well. Now that we’ve settled into our place, we are enjoying discovering what this city has to offer and have found much to enjoy! The greatest highlight recently was being invited to a mother’s group at a local birth center. We attended our first meeting last week, and it felt like we were walking into a room full of friends. It is largely a group of attachment-type parents who share many similar philosophies and parenting practices with us. Everyone was so welcoming, even though most of them have known each other for upwards of two years, and we feel like we may well have found a really lovely community. It’s something we’ve been so lonely for, so to walk in to a room like the one we entered last week was so positive.

I know there is more to share, but for now, I’m exhausted and just wanted to get something up here before another month goes by. Speaking of exhaustion, I have a sleep post I need to write–and so much more. I think I need to give myself a challenge–perhaps for September. It is my birthday month, BG’s birthday month, and the beginning of a new academic year after all. What better time to start anew?

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Filed under behavior, Boy Genius

no tail

We have generally had a well-behaved Baby Genius, despite some occasional minor tantrums and a general getting into things. He is a good boy, or “goy!” if you ask him, and we like that about him. Part of that is probably simply that we’re pretty laid back about what he can play with so long as he can’t hurt himself or anyone else.

Unfortunately, that hurting of others has become a problem lately. BG loves our cats so much that he can hardly contain himself when they are around. If one of them is up on the sofa, he’ll come along and lay his head on the cat, saying, “Awwwww! Awwwww!” While we have been working on the finer art of petting for some time, he still just sort of places his hands on the cats and pushes. It looks like his variation on rolfing–something that might be therapeutic but not exactly soothing or comfortable. And when this is all he does, everyone is fine. The cats tolerate him. Our old lady cat, Cleo, even purrs and loves him back.

But sometimes our son gets overstimulated with the cats. Sometimes, he gets so excited about them, that he can’t help but grab onto their tails with both hands and pull with all his might. Typically, this happens when the mom watching him is out of the room, and we hear a cat under extreme duress.

These episodes have resulted in BG’s very first time outs. They just haven’t been necessary until now, but now we’re putting him in time-out sometimes three or four times a day. Of course, these moments are appropriately brief. We place him in his crib in his room, repeat “No tail, BG! No tail!” and then close the door to his room. Sometimes he cries his way through the time-out, and sometimes he stands in his crib and giggles or babbles the entire time.

When we go back in to retrieve him after a minute or two, though, we always ask, “BG, why are you here?” He looks up at us with his big blue eyes, and requests, “Up!” So we ask again, “Why are you here? Why did Mommy/Mama put you here?” And usually after three or four times, he replies, “Tail.”

So he knows why he’s there, and I honestly think he even understands that what he is doing is wrong (I mostly think this because he has been known to go pull a tail in retaliation for not getting something he wanted). But he keeps doing it. The cats have gotten to a point now that they are fairly scared of him and run when they see him coming. Maybe this is best. Maybe it’s best that he has no contact with them at all for awhile until he can control this crazed urge to pull, pull, pull. I don’t know, and J and I are at a bit of a loss. We want the gentle, sweet, loving side of our son to prevail, and to see this side emerge is admittedly a little scary. Is it paranoid that I wonder if this is pre-serial killer behavior?

Worries aside, we have to get him to stop, so once again, readers, I ask for your infinite wisdom. What would you do/have you done about kids pulling tails? How do we get him to stop–short of wrapping the cats’ tails in barbed wire?


Filed under advice, Baby Genius, behavior