Earlier this year, our parents in the community asked our pediatrician their most pressing questions. Dr Barbara Gablehouse, a retired pediatrician and member of our Board of Educators, answered with her advice, tips, and tricks for all things parenting. As they say, it takes a village to raise a child and our hope is that this parenting advice from the pediatrician answers some of those tricky questions that come up along the way in the journey of raising amazing kids.
Remember, it’s recommended that each family see their own doctor for medical advice regarding a child’s individual concerns.
1. Diets and Nutrition
How should I transition from breastfeeding to bottle-feeding?
- Each family has its own timeline when it comes to weaning babies off breastfeeding. Dr. Gablehouse recommends introducing and familiarizing the baby with a sippy cup at around nine months.
- She advises only adding water or milk to the cup and avoiding sugary juices.
- To associate the transition with the child’s feeding schedule, it’s best only to give your little one milk during mealtimes, otherwise, water is okay.
How can caregivers introduce solid foods to babies?
- There are many different ways to begin introducing your baby to solid foods. Dr. Gablehouse suggests introducing solid foods to babies around the time that they start to drool (usually 4-5 months).
- One of her tips is to put your meal in the blender and turn it into a paste that the baby can eat. This practice helps babies get accustomed to different flavors and textures with the intention that they won’t be picky eaters later on!
- Familiarize your baby with many different foods like avocado, sweet potato, berries, etc. by chopping them up into small pieces. This can get a bit messy, but it will allow your baby to explore new foods, textures, and flavors.
How can I get my picky eater to eat healthier?
- The best way to work with picky eaters is to get creative! Try disguising vegetables in meals that your child already enjoys. This might look like hiding spinach in meatballs or carrots in muffins. If you chop up vegetables really small, your little ones probably won’t even notice the nutritious secret ingredient!
- Another tip that Dr. Gablehouse recommends is to give your child soft meats that they can easily chew: ground meat, pot roast, shredded chicken.
- Finally, it’s a good idea to ensure that your kid has a piece of fruit with every single meal.
2. Sleep Habits
How many hours of sleep per night should my child be getting?
- Newborns typically sleep between 18 – 22 hours a day. They generally only wake to feed!
- After a few weeks, newborns may stay awake longer and begin to interact with their caregivers.
- Follow a “Sleep & Wake Window” to better understand how much sleep a child should be getting depending on their age.
- Introduce newborns to the concept of day and night by creating stark contrasts in noise, light, and energy levels.
How can I get my child to sleep through the night in their own room?
- It’s difficult for both the child and caregivers to transition to sleeping in their own bed. Dr. Gablehouse suggests being firm, consistent, and reassuring with your child throughout this process.
- Set up a nightly routine that is predictable for the child to complete before bed. This way, they understand the stages of the whole family getting ready for sleep: everybody puts on their pajamas, brushes their teeth, washes their face, reads a book, and goes to sleep in their beds.
How can I set up a sleep environment for my child?
- It is helpful to keep a child’s room dark and at a cool temperature throughout the night.
- Dr. Gablehouse also suggests playing quiet, wordless music or putting on a sound machine to block out distracting noises that might wake up your child and disturb their sleep cycle.
- Keep screens out of your child’s room at night and avoid using a phone or tablet in the hours before bedtime.
- Use soft, dim lighting in the house an hour before bedtime.
3. Parenting Advice for Toilet Training
When is the best time to start potty training?
- Dr. Gablehouse encourages caregivers to familiarize babies with the toilet around 8-9 months.
- To do this, strap your toddler toilet seat to the regular toilet. When you are getting ready in the bathroom, buckle your baby into the seat without a diaper. There is no pressure for your child actually to go to the bathroom, but this practice helps your child get accustomed to sitting on the toilet and increases the chances that the behavior will be repeated when it’s time to potty train.
- Many children show signs of being ready for potty training around 18-30 months. However, like many developmental stages, not all children reach these milestones at the same time. Some children aren’t ready for potty training until age 3.
- Potty training takes time. It can take anywhere from 3 months to a full year for children to be fully trained. Along the way, there will be steps forward and a few steps backward. It’s important to remain patient and positive so that your little one doesn’t feel fear or pressure around going to the bathroom!
How should I respond to toilet accidents with older children?
- It’s important not to punish or shame children for toilet accidents.
- Dr. Gablehouse suggests that the best way to address accidents with school-aged children is to have them participate in the cleanup of the mess. Have older children help clean up accidents on the floor with a mop, put their soiled clothes in the laundry, and pick out new clean clothes.
- A great way to change the behavior is to use positive reinforcements when they use the toilet correctly. Dr. Gablehouse advises the use of “potty beans,” aka jelly beans.
- Place a jar of jelly beans in the bathroom that children can see, but not reach. When children pee in the toilet, they earn one bean. When they poop in the toilet, they earn two beans! Positive reinforcements make the experience of potty training more exciting for kids and help incentivize them to make the transition.
What should I do if my child is constipated?
- Some children experience constipation, which can cause negative feelings toward potty training because it can be painful and confusing.
- Dr. Gablehouse recommends totally eliminating foods from the child’s diet that cause constipation. The most constipating foods are rice, bananas, apple produces, and cheese.
- It’s important to include foods in your child’s diet that will help un-constipate them. Foods that can un-constipate your child are green leafy vegetables, prunes, peaches, and fiber.
Whether your child is just beginning their potty training journey, or still in the process, it’s important that you praise their small achievements along the way. After all, potty training is a marathon, not a sprint!
4. Behavior Issues
Trying to manage your little one’s frustrating tantrums? You’re not alone. Behavioral changes, like temper tantrums, often begin around 18th months. Don’t worry, actions like hitting, yelling, and biting are actually quite common due to the fact that toddlers haven’t yet learned the appropriate ways to deal with their wants and needs. That’s where you come in!
One of the most important ways to begin managing your child’s tantrums is to understand why they are happening. Are they tired? Hungry? Seeking attention? There is often a specific cause for the tantrum.
Put on your detective skills and look for patterns in your child’s behavior. Do their tantrums often happen in the afternoon? Out in public? Around other children? Understanding the patterns in their behavior will help you to better soothe your child and address the underlying issue.
Parenting Advice for Temper Tantrums
- It is normal for children to feel frustrated or upset, and this often leads to tantrums because they haven’t yet learned how to self-regulate.
- Dr. Gablehouse suggests removing your attention from this type of negative behavior.
- It’s important to speak calmly and let your child know that you will respond to them when they have calmed themselves down.
- If possible, it can also be helpful for your child to stay in their room until they have settled down.
Teach About Emotions
- Many children need a variety of ways to express their emotions. Use emotion charts to help your child label how they are feeling and then come up with an appropriate solution to managing that emotion.
- For example, if your child points to the emotion of anger, you can both practice doing a breathing exercise. Or, if your child is more active, try putting on a dance video and shaking out all of that excess energy.
- Oftentimes, you can redirect and distract from a full-blown tantrum if you notice the signs of an impending tantrum early on.
Consistency is Key
- As hard as it might be in the moment, it’s crucial to stay consistent when it comes to caregivers managing their children’s tantrums.
- If a child learns that all they have to do to get what they want is to throw a tantrum, they will continue using that method. It is crucial to be firm so that the child learns to manage their eruptive emotions before they develop into adolescence.
- Mean what you say when you say it. Dr. Gablehouse describes this as a battle of wills. If you say “no screentime right now,” you have to stand by that decision.
5. Screen Time and Exercise
In a world of so much technology, it can be difficult to know how much time our little ones should be interacting with tablets and phones.
How much time should my child spend on screens?
- Dr. Gablehouse suggests that children should play outside before having their screen time.
- Instead of putting a big focus on how many minutes per day the child is permitted to use the device, focus on how much time they need to spend outside.
- She recommends making a rule that children can’t have screen time until they’ve played outside!
- Want to know more about screen time and kids? Check out this video on Safe Screen Time on our Parenting Tips YouTube Channel.
How much time should my child exercise each day?
- Kids should go outside to play for an hour in the mornings and at least one hour in the afternoon.
- Children get their exercise through play. When children are playing outside or with friends, they are exercising and of course… having fun!
- Take kids for a walk, put them in a swing, and let them climb and run on a jungle gym. They should learn from an early age that it’s fun to be outside.
- Looking for ideas on how to exercise together as a family? Check out this video with three ideas for moving and grooving with your little ones!
What should I do if my child has low Vitamin D levels?
- Dr. Gablehouse suggests that there isn’t enough Vitamin D in milk to use as your child’s main source of Vitamin D.
- The best way to get adequate Vitamin D is to go outside and let the sun shine down on your skin. For kids, they can get this by going outside to play at least twice every single day.
6. Developmental Concerns
Most parents can agree that babies seem to grow up in the blink of an eye! With so many developments happening so quickly, it can be confusing to know if our babies are “on the right track” when it comes to reaching each developmental milestone.
Check Milestones Every 3 Months
- The average age that a child sits up is around 6 months.
- The average age that a child crawls is around 9 months.
- The average age that a child stands up unsupported and takes a step is around 12 months.
Don’t Worry About Perfect Timing
- It’s important not to panic if your little one doesn’t immediately reach certain milestones.
- It might be time to seek professional care if your child is more than three months behind a major developmental stage.
- For example, if your child isn’t sitting up by 6 months, it’s not something to panic about. However, if your child still isn’t sitting up by 9 months, it would be a good idea to speak with your medical professional.
Parenting Advice for Speech
- Most babies tend to say their first word around 12 months.
- After that, they should be tripling their vocabulary every three months.
- For example, 1 word by 12 months, 3 words by 15 months, 40-50 words by 18 months.
- Children should be pointing to things they want around 12-15 months (food, bottle, toys). They will do this before they even know the word for each item.
- They should be pointing to their interests around 15-18 months (nature, animals, bright objects).
- These are significant developmental tasks. If your child isn’t pointing to their wants and needs by these times, speak with your doctor about what could be the cause.
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Disclaimer: The information posted/discussed here is not to be considered medical advice and is not intended to replace consultation with a qualified medical professional. We may answer, discuss, and post medical questions solely at our own discretion. The answers to these questions should in no way be considered specific medical advice or a plan for disease management.