Get expert reality checks on everything from sugary cereal to preschoolers and pacifiers.
You what? Still give your toddler a pacifier? Feed your kids sugary cereal? Let them stay up late? Before you wallow too deeply in parental guilt, check out our guide.
I let my toddler go to bed at 9:30 p.m.
Your excuse: My husband doesn't get home until after 7, and I want him to spend time with her. Plus, she's not tired anyway.
The expert's take: Kids this age need about 13 hours of zzz-time -- which includes naps. "There's no need to be concerned if she goes to bed at 9:30, wakes up at 8:30, and has a two-hour nap," says Parents advisor Jodi Mindell, PhD, coauthor of Take Charge of Your Child's Sleep. But if you have to wake her in the morning and she's cranky during the day, she's probably overtired. "Not getting enough sleep affects every aspect of a toddler's life including her behavior, her thinking, and her health," says Dr. Mindell. Rather than keeping your little one up, your husband may have to tweak his schedule and enjoy some block play before he goes to work in the morning.
I let my preschooler use his pacifier.
Your excuse: It's the easiest way to calm him down.
The expert's take: "An older child who uses a pacifier for several hours a day is at risk for major dental problems that will require orthodontic work," says Parents advisor Jennifer Shu, MD, coauthor of Heading Home with Your Newborn. "Prolonged pacifier use may also prevent kids from speaking as much or as clearly, and, of course, there's the issue of being teased by other kids." If your child uses the pacifier as a comfort object, try a substitute such as a small blanket. "Going cold turkey works well if your child has shown the ability to go without the pacifier for extended periods," says Dr. Shu. Simply give it to a "pacifier fairy." After a week or so, he'll probably stop asking for it.
I let my 5-year-old watch American Idol.
Your excuse: All his friends watch it, and he loves it.
The expert's take: "American Idol isn't the worst TV show your kid could watch," says pediatrician Dimitri Christakis, MD, author of The Elephant in the Living Room: Make Television Work for Your Kids. "If you tune in each week as a family, then the experience could actually be very good." You can have fun rooting for the contestants and you can talk about some of the values the show represents -- following your dreams, believing in yourself, and bouncing back from criticism. When Simon says something nasty, it's a great opportunity to explain why being rude isn't nice. Just remember, although Idol may be fine family entertainment, the commercials are not. "At that hour, the TV ads are not appropriate for a 5-year-old," warns Dr. Christakis. So TiVo or tape the show, and watch it the following night.
I let my toddler play computer games for an hour every morning.
Your excuse: They keep him occupied and sitting in one spot, so I can get some stuff done around the house.
The expert's take: The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under 2 not be exposed to any screen time at all -- and that includes TV, videos, and computers. "Computers certainly don't help kids at this early age," says Parents advisor Michael Rich, MD, director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Children's Hospital Boston. The years from 0 to 3 are a critical time for a child's brain to develop, and certain activities -- exploring the world through play, creative problem solving, interaction with friends and loving adults -- are key. "The binary world of computers can't duplicate any of these experiences," says Dr. Rich. "And if kids aren't exercising certain brain cells, they may be at risk of losing neurons they actually need." That said, if your kid is over 2 and spending less than half an hour a day on the computer -- he's also running around outside and playing with friends -- it's not a problem. "But he should be in your lap playing on the computer with you," says Dr. Rich. So this isn't a way to sneak in a little "me" time.
I let my kids eat sugary cereal for breakfast.
Your excuse: It's all they'll eat.
The expert's take: "What's important is that kids get something into their stomach to start off their day, and if sugary cereal is what they'll eat, go with it," says Parents advisor Connie Diekman, RD. Most cereals -- even the sweet ones -- are fortified with all sorts of vitamins and minerals. And if they're adding milk, kids are getting a dose of calcium, vitamin D, and some protein as well. "The new dietary guidelines allow for fat and sugar calories, so if kids are eating nutritious foods the rest of the day, then some sugar in the morning is not a big problem."
I take my kid to daycare when he has a cold.
Your excuse: He's just a little bit sick, and I have to go to work!
The expert's take: If you're talking some sniffles and he's his usual peppy self, pack his lunch and drop him off guilt-free. "Kids in daycare have runny noses all year round," says Dr. Shu. "If you had to keep a child home every time he had a cold, parents would never be able to go to work!" However, if he has a fever, he's contagious -- so keep him home. And if you knowingly send him off to daycare with any symptoms like vomiting or diarrhea, you're inviting bad karma. After all, the next time it could be your child who's exposed to a sick classmate.
I let my kid come into my bed in the middle of the night.
Your excuse: It's easier than arguing with him at 2 a.m.
The expert's take: Many kids head to Mom and Dad's bed when they get scared or lonely at night, which is fine if everyone's getting the shut-eye they need. But chances are no one is. If poking and kicking at all hours is keeping everyone awake, or if you (or your husband) resent the family snoozefest on any level, you have to come up with a plan for returning your child to his room. Kids won't naturally outgrow this habit, so you have to train your child to stay put in his room. "The key is to be completely consistent," says Dr. Mindell. "If he comes into your room at night, take him back to his bed every single time." Explain that kids his age sleep in their own beds. As an incentive, make a chart and give him a sticker every time he sleeps alone. At the end of the week, he can trade them in for a special prize like breakfast with Dad or a trip to the zoo. It might take a month or longer until your child is sleeping in his bed through the night, so be patient.
I let my 5-year-old skip the booster seat.
Your excuse: We're only driving to school, and she makes a scene every morning.
The expert's take: This is very dangerous. "Car crashes are the leading cause of death and injury for kids ages 2 to 14," says Kristy Arbogast, PhD, director of field engineering at the Center for Injury Research and Prevention at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. "One of the things we found from our research is that crashes involving children take place less than 20 minutes away from home." That means it's on the trip to the grocery store or the ride back from soccer practice that you're more likely to get into an accident -- not during the six-hour drive to Grandma's. Car seat belts don't fit kids properly, so even if your child is wearing one, he may not be protected in a crash. "Booster seats have reduced the risk of injury to kids ages 4 to 7 by 60 percent," says Dr. Arbogast. That's compelling. If your kid puts up a fuss, tell her that it's the law (38 states and D.C. have booster-seat legislation). Consider a backless booster seat -- it looks less like a "baby" seat and you can't even tell she's riding in one from outside the car. Lastly, always be sure you buckle up. How can you expect your kids to ride safely if you don't wear your seat belt?
Copyright © 2007. Used with permission from the September 2007 issue of Parents magazine.
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