Written by The Parenting Center
          Q: This is an embarrassing question, but I'd really appreciate some guidance. My three-year-old daughter has a habit of "playing" with herself at bedtime. Should I stop her, or just close her door and turn a blind eye? A: Children this age are learning to control their bodies, and enjoy what their bodies do when they run, jump and play. Just as a child might suck her thumb or twirl her hair because it feels good, many preschoolers discover that touching their genitals feels good, too. If it occurs primarily at bedtime it’s probably because your daughter finds it helps her fall asleep. Simply avoid commenting on the behavior and leave the room. Some preschoolers, though, touch their genitals in public and it’s fine for parents to remind them this is a private behavior for when they are alone. If it becomes much more frequent during daytime hours, you can redirect her to other activities, suggesting she look at a book with you or do a puzzle. This kind of touching is only cause for concern if a child does it with such frequency it interferes with other interests or activities, in which case a parent should contact their pediatrician.   Q:  We adopted our toddler from Russia. When people we meet out and about ask us (dark brunettes that we are) where he gets his gorgeous red hair, what’s our best response without going into his biological history? A: While there is no need to share your son’s birth story with the world, you should be anticipating his questions and how you will answer them as you talk with family and friends about him. Parents act as the first mirror to a child, reflecting back messages about who they are. Be sure he is hearing what you want him to hear about how he joined and became a part of your family.   Q: My five-month old won’t sleep through the night. Help! A: You are not alone. Although a five month old is capable of sleeping eight – 10 hours at night, studies show as many as 50 percent of infants do not and many babies do not sleep all night for the first year of life. Due to the incredible amount of physical growth and neurological development in the first 12 months, your baby’s sleeping patterns will change. Teething discomfort may be another reason for sleep disturbance around this period. Therefore, any attempt at “sleep training” by the parents is usually futile during the first six to twelve months.   Here are a few tips to promote a better nighttime routine: -Keep a consistent evening/bedtime routine, such as bathing, massaging, reading, rocking, feeding, etc; -Avoid activities that may excite your baby before bedtime; -Make sure your baby is not too warm or too cold during the night; -White noise can been effective in soothing infants during sleep; -Between three to five months, some sleep experts suggest putting your baby in bed while still awake, but drowsy, to let your baby learn self-soothing skills; -Avoid too many rituals that create dependency on mom or dad to get to sleep, so with each awakening during the night he may be able to self-soothe and go back to sleep on his own.   Creating routines with infants take time and patience. Every baby has their own time table—the consistent thing is they are inconsistent! The good news is that babies will begin to sleep longer periods at night as they grow. In the meantime, some good books that address sleep include: Sleep, The Brazelton Way, by T. Berry Brazelton, M.D. & Joshua D. Sparrow, M.D.; No Cry Sleep Solutions by Elizabeth Pantly; and Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems by Richard Ferber, M.D. Any persistent concern about your baby’s sleeping patterns should be discussed with your pediatrician. You may also call a parent educator at The Parenting Center to discuss parenting concerns. Always keep in mind that whatever response you make is being overheard by your child and should be understood by him. Your responsibility is to his well-being and healthy self-image, not to educate the public. An evasive, non-specific answer such as, “Isn’t it beautiful? It suits him so well,” should satisfy all but the most intrusive folks. If they persist, you can fall back on Dear Abby’s response to nosiness, “Why are you so interested?” or “Why do you need to know?”  

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