Live Chat Transcript: Must-have Parenting Tools for Toddlers and Preschoolers

Below is our transcript of the live chat event that took place Thursday, March 25, 2010 in our auditorium with Dr. Kathleen Cuneo. This event focused on parenting tools for toddlers and preschoolers that strengthen your relationship with your child while alleviating problem areas.

What's Below?
What do you mean by empowered parenting?
Should I allow this playmate?
How can I discourage aggressive behavior?
What will encourage my 3-year-old to try new foods?
Speech delay or normal milestones for twins?
Is constant finger sucking a concern?
How can I help my son transition to a divorce
and move?

Moderator: Dr. Cuneo is creator of Empowered Parenting: Confident Parents, Compassionate Kids Program is our guest today. Thank you so much for joining us. I've been able to review your website and am definitely aware of how useful this information can be for all of us as parents -- especially today! Would you like to begin by offering a brief overview of what you mean by "empowered parenting"?

mom and childDr. Cuneo: When I speak of empowered parenting I mean parents who feel confident about their parenting decisions and aren't riddled with lots of self-doubt. We all have doubts about our parenting sometimes. By the way, I'm a mom of three so I've definitely had my share of self-questioning. I believe that we can be the best parents we can be if we first look inward a bit. I'm not talking about intensive psychotherapy, but an appreciation and understanding of our own history.

How we were parented has a huge influence, plus and minus, on our own parenting. And how we react to stress and manage our own emotions plays out in our parenting as well. By knowing your child, I mean having a basic understanding of what to expect at certain ages as well as knowing your own individual child's strengths and weaknesses.

And by communicating effectively, I'm referring to tuning into your child's emotional experience and helping them navigate the world. Does anyone have any specific questions that they'd like to ask about any of these topics or the ones mentioned at the beginning of the chat?

My six-year-old loves playing with her 10-year-old cousin, who had just been diagnosis with ADD. I would prefer my daughter doesn't model some of her behavior. Should I discourage their spending time together?

I wouldn't necessarily think that you'd have to keep the children apart. You could use some of your niece's behavior as teaching opportunities for your daughter. You also need to be clear with your daughter about what your expectations around behavior are. To tell her that specific behaviors you're observing aren't okay with you and a brief explanation of why.

How much time the girls spend together would be influenced by how much your own child's behavior becomes disruptive when they're together and how easily you can get her to regroup. Yes.

You can also make sure that consequences for your daughter's behavior are clear to her. One example would be not playing together as a consequence; just be careful in how you word it. You don't want to make empty threats if your niece will be there for longer period. You also want to be careful not to label your niece.

I think there are difficult people in the world and not everyone brings out the best in us. Our children need to learn how to respond to different types of people and how to make good choices.

I have two daughters, 4 and barely 2. My two-year-old is acting out badly -- biting, scratching, pinching and hitting. We don't spank and she isn't learning from her older sister. We have tried talking to her but she keeps doing it. I am just curious how to deal with this.

First, you need to respond to the injured party and make sure they're okay. Next, you need to send a firm, clear (but not overly angry) "No!" to your 2-year-old. She may need to be removed from the situation briefly. Long explanations won't work at this age.

Also, try to look at what might be leading to the situation. There are lots of different reasons that kids are aggressive. Sometimes they're just tired, hungry, or over-stimulated.

If you can figure out a pattern to prevent it from happening in the future, that would be your best bet. It may take multiple, multiple experiences for her to learn. I know it's frustrating as a parent. As her language develops, you'll be able to help her understand better.

My son will be 3 soon. He will eat fries, pizza, chicken nuggets...but that's about it. We can't get him to eat anything! Do you have any advice on ways to get him to try new things?

broccoli and dipThis is a big topic for me. Assuming his growth his steady and normal and he has no developmental issues, I would approach this as a feeding strategy issue. I am a big proponent of Ellyn Satter's division of responsibility in feeding. This approach says that parents are responsible for the what, when, and where of feeding. Children are responsible for the how much and whether of eating.

If you feel like you're nagging him, putting pressure on him, putting a lot of focus on his eating and he a very strong-willed, naturally oppositional kid, this is probably a battle you want to get yourself out of because no one will win!

Ellyn Satter has several books on this topic: Child of Mine and Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family are my favorites. I've also written a lot about these topics on my Dinner Together blog and newsletter.

I would say that you should serve meals family style. Have all the food available on the table, making sure to include at least one thing that he usually likes -- could be just bread. Let him choose what he wants to take. And don't pressure. Also understand that trying new foods takes a progression:

  • Seeing it on the table
  • Smelling it
  • Seeing other people eat it
  • Putting it on his plate but not eating it
  • Putting it in his mouth but not swallowing
  • Eventually maybe eating it.

Definitely the range of exposure needed varies among children and among foods but 20 is in the ballpark.

I would try not to worry too much if he is growing okay. If he's falling off his own growth curve then you might need a different approach.

My almost 8-year-old son and I have recently moved across the country due to a divorce. We are now living with my parents. How can I help him through this transition?

You need to be patient with everybody involved here. I'm sure it's hard for you as well as him, and it must be an adjustment for your parents, too. It can take up to 2 years for families to adjust to divorce.

Be as honest as you can with your son. Not knowing the details, I don't know how much you can say to him, but you want to make sure he knows that it's not his fault. You never know the ideas that kids may have in their heads about things. You may need to tell him multiple times that it is not his fault.

Also, you need to be clear about the reality of you not moving back to his old home -- assuming that that's not an option. Help him get adjusted to his new environment as best you can by getting him involved in activities in the new area and meeting people.

Take a look at the library and see if they have the book Dinosaurs Divorce by Marc Brown. It might be a little young for him, but it's a great book.

If it's possible, help him to maintain contact with his dad in some way before the summer as well, whether it's phone calls, letters, email, whatever.

You know, this will be a long process for you all. Be patient with yourselves and seek local help if you need it.

My 22-month-old twins have great comprehension, understand almost everythng we say and are saying a few single words; but they really aren't putting words together. Is this a speech delay or normal milestones for twins?

Without doing a full developmental assessment, it's hard to know whether or not their speech is delayed. Yes, twins often are a little behind and often catch up with some of their milestones. If you are truly concerned, I'd suggest you contact your local early intervention program. Every state has a program.

You don't have much to lose by having them evaluated, except maybe some of your time. The evaluation itself is usually a fairly pleasant experience for the kids and it is done without cost to you.

If they're learning lots of new words but just not putting them together yet, I would be less concerned. Lots of kids don't start putting words together until about age 2 and yours aren't even 2 yet.

Just keep exposing them to lots of language experiences. Talk and sing to them all the time. Lots of pretend play. Reading picture books.

My 8-month-old baby boy sucks on his fingers all day and all night. He won't take a pacifier. He has HUGE freak out if his fingers are taken out of his mouth for even a brief amount of time. Should I be concerned?

It sounds like he sucks on his fingers as a way to soothe and comfort himself. That's not such a bad thing, especially for his age. In order for him to stop, he'll most likely need to find another way to soothe himself. This can be a hard thing to teach an 8 month old. But it does get easier as they get older.

I'm not a dentist, but I don't think you need to worry about his teeth just yet. There should be a lot of room in his mouth for things to readjust and fall into place.

You may want to try experimenting with him with other ways to calm himself though. Or if he mainly does it when he's bored, see if you can find ways for him to be more stimulated/engaged with people and toys. Don't set up an unnecessary battle with him about sucking on fingers at this point. He may naturally grow out of it, but may resist stronger if he feels like he can't do it.

About our guest: Dr. Kathleen Cuneo, psychologist and parent coach, shares "Must-have Parenting Tools for Toddlers and Preschoolers" that will strengthen your relationship with your child while alleviating problem areas. Dr. Cuneo is creator of Empowered Parenting: confident parents -- compassionate kids program. Dr. Cuneo's training and professional experience has focused on the healthy development of children and families and overcoming risks and challenges to development.

She earned her doctoral degree in Applied Developmental Psychology from Fordham University. Her postgraduate training focuses infants, toddlers, and parents. She has worked with children and families for the past two decades in a variety of settings, including a primary health care center in the South Bronx, home- and community-based early intervention and preschool special education programs, center-based preschool special education programs, and private practice in Rockland County, New York. Be sure to visit her website for more information.