Letters, Articles & Free Stuff

My 2-year-old lies to get medicine -- help!



Q: I have a question regarding lying. When my 2 year old, India, sees the bottle of Children’s Tylenol in the drawer, she says “I’m sick!” The first few times I checked her temperature with a thermometer and found no fever. I suspect that she just wants to taste the medicine. Now, when she says it, I feel her forehead and say, “You’re not sick. You don’t have a fever!” I don’t want to deny her feelings, but also don’t want to give her Tylenol if she doesn’t need it. Any ideas about what to say?

A: At India’s age, she is still learning about the difference between truth and fantasy, and she’s testing things out. She sees the Tylenol, and has figured out she gets some if she says she “feels sick.” So she is trying this out on you. Since you are pretty sure she isn’t really sick, you can gently let her know that she doesn’t feel feverish, but you and she can pretend that she is sick. Then you can give her some pretend Tylenol (colored water, honey, grape juice, whatever you feel comfortable with), and you can cuddle her and tell her you hope she feels better soon. Let her know that you can’t give her real Tylenol, because it’s not good to take it when you’re not sick (“although I bet you’d like to take it anytime, because you like how it tastes”). This last comment lets her know you understand how she feels (she’d like to have Tylenol now), while being clear she can’t actually have some now.




Too much hugging
Dear Joanna and Julie,

Our almost 6-year-old is overly physically affectionate with his friends. He can’t seem to restrain himself from kissing and hugging (way too long and too hard), and won’t stop even when the other kid complains.

We’ve had many discussions with him about the importance of respecting other people’s bodies and boundaries, and he seems to understand, but that doesn’t help him control his impulses.

When we’re around, we can usually rein him in with a gentle reminder if we see him going overboard. But we’re at a loss about what to do when we’re not there to address it – at school or camp, for instance.  We’ve even tried taking away screen time as a consequence, but that doesn’t seem to work.

Of course, we don’t want to teach him to NEVER hug or kiss anyone — just to do it appropriately. If it were hitting, it would be simpler: never acceptable, the end. But helping him understand when (and how much) affection is okay, and teaching him to stop even when he doesn’t want to, is proving to be a lot more complicated.

Yours truly,

“In a Tight Squeeze”


Dear Tight Squeeze,

You’re on the right track! Punishment and restricting privileges will not help your son learn to control himself. It sounds like you are trying to do some problem-solving, but you’re missing the all-important first step.

Step one – Acknowledge the child’s feeling first.  We cannot emphasize this enough!  Spend a generous amount of time talking about how nice it is to hug and squeeze and kiss. How much fun, how much he loves to do it – in the morning, in the afternoon, at bedtimes, with his parents, with his teachers, with his friends, a good squeeze is the best! Once you get started you really don’t want to stop, even when the other person says to stop. It feels too good to stop!

Step two – “The problem is…..”

Then and only then can you talk about other people’s feelings. “The problem is that sometimes other people are not in the mood to be squeezed. They can get upset. What can a person do when he loves to hug but the other person doesn’t want to be hugged so much?”

Step three – “We need ideas…”

Maybe your son can come up with some of his own ideas. Here are a few to start you off:

  1. Would he like to carry a small favorite stuffed animal that he can hug when the mood strikes, instead of hugging the person?
  2. When he feels the urge to hug, can he hug himself, wrapping his arms around his own shoulders and kissing his own inner elbows while doing so?
  3. Could he ask a person if they would like a hug? If they say yes, the hug is on!
  4. Can he come up with a special word for friends or teachers to use that will be a signal for him to stop?
  5. Would he like to shop for, or better yet help make, a big stuffed animal or cushion that he can hug to his heart’s content?
  6. Perhaps the two of you can play a hugging game, so he can practice starting and stopping. You hug him nice and tight and he can say “more” or “stop.” As soon as he says stop, fling your arms away dramatically and say something like “Hug OVER!” (Or “break free!” or “Blast off!” to make it seem like a more fun experience to stop hugging.) Then let him do the same to you. Let him practice on other family members as well, and get some stuffed animals to boot. They can talk to him in their own cute little stuffed animal voices.

Write down all your ideas. Choose the ones you both like. Talk to his teachers and camp counselors about the solutions so that they can help. When he manages to use a solution, notice that with appreciation:

“You felt like hugging, but you knew Amy didn’t want to, so you hugged your own self. You did it!”

If he doesn’t use his solutions, gently extricate the “victim” without scolding your son. Just repeat, “Amy’s not in the mood to be squeezed right now. Let’s find something else to squeeze!”

In addition to problem solving with your son, it may be helpful to find a way to give him the experience he seeks. Some kids (especially those who are on the spectrum or have sensory processing disorder) crave deep pressure. We know one mom who plays the “hotdog game” with her child. She wraps him tightly in a blanket (the bun!) and then puts “condiments” on him. “Ketchup” gets spread on with long firm strokes. “Sauerkraut” is added by chopping up and down his back with the edges of the palms, mustard is pounded on with gentle fists, onions are slapped on, salt and pepper are sprinkled with little fingernail touches, and then the whole thing is eaten up, yumyumyum. A favorite game!

Joanna and Julie

Getting kids to school


Trying to get our kids out the door on time in the morning can be a frustrating and exhausting endeavor. Even when we start off determined to make THIS morning better, we can still end up with arguments and tears. What to do?

One of the themes I keep coming back to with parents is the importance of letting our kids know we understand how they are feeling. Even the most empathic among us are sometimes surprised by how easy it is to deny our kids’ feelings. It happens when we are stressed, or under pressure, or just plain exhausted. In other words, most days!

At this time of year, the reality of the school routine has sunk in, and the newness has worn off. Even my son who was so excited at the beginning of school – new teachers, new school supplies, seeing his friends… so much to look forward to –loses his enthusiasm after a few weeks.

Here’s what I hear when it is time to leave:

“I don’t want to go.”

“I’m tired.”

“I’m not finished eating.”

“Why do we have to go to school every day???”

“I want YOU to put my shoes on.”

Sound familiar?

Here’s what doesn’t work:

“You had such a good time yesterday. Don’t you want to see your friends?” (No!)

“It’s your own fault for running around at bedtime. Tonight you’re going to bed early!” (I hate you!)

“Hurry up – we’re going to be late!” (Why should I hurry? I’d rather be late, or not go at all!)

“If you don’t come by the time I count to three, you can’t watch a video tonight.” (I don’t care!)

“You know how to put your own shoes on. Come on, let’s go!” (I can’t. I don’t want to.)

Even though it might seem counter-intuitive, acknowledging that he REALLY doesn’t want to go is often the most helpful thing I can say:

“You are NOT in the mood for school right now.”

“Don’t you wish they would make school start later, so we wouldn’t have to rush in the morning?”

“I bet if you were in charge, you wouldn’t make children go to school every day!”

Of course, if I can manage to be a little playful while we were getting ready and change the mood, it feels like magic:

“Listen, I hear your shoes calling to you: [in funny voice] we miss your feet. Please warm us up!” (If he starts giggling, I know I am on the right track.)

And sometimes it helps to plan something to look forward to, once we get in the car:

“Do you want to pick the music we listen to on the way over?”

“Shall we make up a story about kids who NEVER have to go to school?”

For more ideas, sign up for a “How To Talk So Kids Will Listen” workshop, or start one yourself!




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