How Can I Keep the Flu Away?

Dear Mamas,
My toddler is 2 1/2, and in this flu season I’m freaked out about how to protect him from bugs of all kinds! After all, how often can you ask a 2-year-old to wash his hands? Use hand sanitizing gel? Stay away from other toddlers who are sneezing? It seems like the recommendations I’m hearing don’t really apply to the little ones. What do I do?
Crazy Confused

Dear Confused,

You’re not the only one! A nurse in my local school district recently told me that she’s going nuts trying to figure out what the rules are, and how to apply them. It seems like you have to work for the CDC to truly understand the new normal. But there ARE some common-sense guidelines to follow that will help keep your little guy healthy.

First, keep in mind that your son’s exposure isn’t the same as yours. He’s probably not shaking a lot of hands or opening a lot of public restroom doors. He IS touching everything he can reach and putting lots of things in his mouth. So think about those patterns and decide when the need for clean-up is greatest, and when some things (like the ball room at Chuck E. Cheese) can simply be avoided.

Wash his hands after he’s been at the store or the park or other public places. Think twice before you put him in that grocery cart where the handle is at perfect mouth level. How many hands touched that today? And if he’s already at the age where pressing the button in an elevator is a huge thrill, challenge him to try pushing it with his knuckle, or better yet, his elbow!

An important note of caution comes from a story I heard recently about a 1-year-old who suddenly became seriously ill and was taken to the emergency room. Doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong in spite of every conceivable lab test and imaging scan. Finally, after hours of questions, it became clear that his mom had been cleaning his hands with hand sanitizing gel over and over again — like every hour.

Well this little guy, like every teething toddler, was putting his hands in his mouth and licking that stuff off, toxins and all. He ingested so much that it made him REALLY sick. Fast forward to the happy ending … he’s fine and his mom put away the Purell. Now she uses baby wipes (they’re non-toxic) when they’re away from home, or carries soapy wipes in a ziplock bag. Hand sanitizers were developed for adults, and are NOT safe for babies and toddlers who put everything in their mouths.

And of course, stay home if you have symptoms of the flu (fever, sore throat, body aches). Encourage other moms to keep THEIR darlings home if they have symptoms. This isn’t the time to share snot at the Wednesday play group, even if you ARE dying to see your friends and dish about who got voted off American Idol.

We’re all in this together and the experts are learning more every day. Do what’s smart, don’t panic, and stay well.

Let The Tantrums Begin!

Hi Mamas,

I have a 14 month old firecracker! She is a bright, fun and goofy kid that makes me laugh every day. As I am starting to use “no” and divert her away from things she shouldn’t be playing with, she is starting to have little meltdowns — crying, screaming, doubling over. This has only happened twice but I want to make sure I react appropriately. Is it bad to ignore her when she is crying so hard? Please advise so I can curb this behavior before it happens more often.

Thanks, Worried Mom

Dear Worried,
First of all, thanks for your great question. It’s clear to me that you are already on the right track and sensing the correct way to go. You just need a little confidence, a little clarification about what’s going on, and a few tips to help you keep moving in the right direction.

To make it as clear as possible, lets break it down like this:

What: Yep, it’s a tantrum. Kicking, screaming, crying, and whining are the most common behaviors seen but for no extra charge you can also get hitting, throwing themselves on the ground, and breath-holding, too.

Who: Girls and boys between the ages of 1 and 3.

Where: Anywhere!

When: Any time is possible but they can go to the dark side fast when they are overtired, hungry, FRUSTRATED, looking for attention or wanting some independence or control of their world.

Why: Because kids this age don’t have much say about their environment; want what they want when they want it; can’t communicate their wishes; don’t get the whole concept of sharing; don’t tolerate being sleep-deprived or hungry very well and have a really hard time with the idea of “no.”

You described the behavior perfectly and gave hints as to what’s setting her off — saying no and taking things that she shouldn’t have away. Imagine that you are waiting for a table in a fancy cafe in Paris– jet-lagged, starving, and dying to order a delectable Parisian feast like the one you read about in your Frommer’s Guide. But you don’t have it with you, you don’t speak French and the waiters don’t know what you’re talking about. And they are ignoring you, and just seated someone else in the table you wanted. Aaarrgghhh!

This situation is likely to set off a grown-up temper tantrum and we all know what that feels like. But we can walk out of the restaurant, make another choice, find someone who speaks our language or give up, go take a nap and come back again later.

Not so for the two-year-old. So, the best thing to do is to try and avoid those tantrums or be prepared to nip them in the bud the minute they start.

First of all, make sure you are covering the basics:

  • stick to the sleep schedule like it’s part of your religion (naps and bedtime)
  • put away fragile or breakable items that you don’t want her to touch until she’s a little older. Try to arrange your home so you’re not constantly having to say no.
  • make sure she eats good stuff at regular times.
  • let her make plenty of choices but only when they don’t matter or when you are in charge of what they are, like “Want to climb into your car seat all by yourself or want mommy to put you in?”
  • give her lots of attention when she is behaving well… all kids thrive on “watch me!”
  • make sure she has enough things to do and play with that are age appropriate and not too much for her to handle — this cuts down on frustration.
  • get good at distracting her when she’s going for something she wants and can’t have.

But even the most conscientious moms are not going to prevent all of the tantrums all of the time. And try as I might, I can’t give you a precise prescription for handling a tantrum in progress because so much depends on the specifics of the situation.

But there are a variety of things you can try based on your child’s age, history and what’s happening. The main thing is that you don’t want to reinforce the unacceptable behavior by giving in or making too much of a fuss over it. And obviously it’s never a good idea to spank or hit a child when they are acting out. It’s hard to convince them that hitting is bad if you’re providing excellent pointers on exactly how to do it.

Regardless of the situation, try your best to STAY CALM and to figure out what’s going on. Remember that over-reacting will just rile things up more.

If you see what the problem is and can intervene at that point, great! If she’s really out of control you may have to take her out of the room and explain that hitting, or screaming or whatever she is doing is not okay and that she needs to stop it and calm down. Distraction at that point may work.

Or, if she’s melting down in a place where you feel comfortable and she won’t stop whining after you’ve tried to redirect her attention you can try ignoring it, as long as she isn’t hurting herself or anyone else. If you’re at home and she doesn’t stop, you can calmly put her in her room for a couple of minutes and explain to her that she needs to settle down.

Later when the storm has passed, rock or cuddle with her a little. It’s scary for little ones when they get out-of-control like that and they need reassurance that you still love them. Tell her that you know she was really mad before and ask her what that felt like. Then explain, quietly and sweetly, that in your family you don’t hit, scream etc. when you get angry and give her ideas about what she can do next time she feels that way (like using her words and saying “I’M MAD,” for example).

Of course you’re not going to have a two hour seminar on anger management with a 14 month-old, but you get the picture. You can at least start the conversation about what behaviors are and are not okay when we’re frustrated or angry. And then be consistent about not allowing them.

You’ll have to hone your interventions a bit depending on exactly what ‘s going on and how old she is. But I’m sure you get the main idea. In the meantime though, I know it’s tough on everyone. Hang in there — this too shall pass.

Too Young For A Puppy?

Dear Mamas,

We are thinking about getting a dog for our son who is turning five in August. He loves animals and I think it would be a good way to teach him responsibility. My husband thinks he is too young. Who’s right?


Dear Danielle,

A pet can be a wonderful addition to any family given that you have space, time, and family members who are wiling to do the feeding, the walking, the training and the playing. It’s kind of like having a kid. Lots of work and lots of fun. BUT….a 5 year old is definitely not ready to take on this kind of responsibility by himself and should not be expected to do so. He’s not old enough and is incapable of caring for a living, breathing being without a lot of supervision and help.

Having said that, getting a pet can be a great way to introduce him to the idea of caring for others and also to get him started on doing a regular, daily chore or two. He can help with the feeding and can walk the dog (with a parent) and play catch with him outside. Most likely he will come to see his pet as his friend and will no doubt enjoy the unconditional love and companionship that a dog can provide. BUT he cannot train the dog, or care for him when he is sick, or be responsible for keeping him safe and fed. That will have to be up to you.

If you decide to go ahead, look for a breed that is even tempered and good with kids. Make sure that YOU are willing to make the commitment and include your son in choosing and naming the dog. Then make sure that you teach him to be gentle and kind to his new pet. No teasing or pulling on the tail allowed. After all, the dog is a person too!

Can My Special Needs Grandson Trick-Or-Treat?

Dear Mamas On Call,

I have a wonderful, beautiful five-year-old grandson who has cerebral palsy. He is adamant that this year he wants to go trick-or-treating. My daughter (his mother) is nervous about this and also worried about how to make a costume for him. I think he should do all the things he wants to do (that are possible for him) that are age-appropriate. How can I help them?? We live close-by and I am available.


Dear Lois,

It sure sounds like you have a very special little guy in your life! Congratulations on being a grandma. How wonderful that you are close and can spend lots of time with them. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you what a blessing that is for everyone.

As far as trick-or-treating goes, I’m with you. If he wants to, and his (or your) neighborhood can accomodate a wheelchair, why not? I completely agree that this little dude should be out there with the rest of them doing the Halloween thing if his health and physical condition allow it. After all, you’re only a kid once!

But I can also understand your daughter’s concern. She may be worried about the logistics of managing it all. Or, she may feel overwhelmed by the thought of coming up with a reasonable costume. Or, that some unkind remarks may come his way from kids who are less-than-sensitive. Or, maybe she just isn’t into the whole Halloween thing in general. Hard to say. Trick-or-treating with a child in a wheelchair will definitely take a little more organization and planning but that shouldn’t be a reason to avoid it. After all, he will have his family there to help him get around and to deal with any issues that come up.

As for the costume, there are so many fabulous ideas out there. He can incorporate the chair into the costume itself if he likes. One way that you can help is to suggest ideas for the costume and help gather materials and put it together. There are several websites that can give you ideas to share with your daughter first, and then later, once you get the go ahead from her, with your grandson (see below).

Some of the more clever ones I have seen include turning the wheelchair into an ice cream truck, a bumble bee, a Bat Mobile, and a chef’s kitchen but the list is endless. And they do not allrequire you to be a licensed contractor in order to pull them off!

So why don’t you sit down with your daughter and have an honest heart-to-heart talk with her? Encourage her to share her thoughts and feelings about the situation, out-of-earshot from your grandson.

Listen carefully, without judgement, to what she has to say and do what you can to quell her fears. Offer your assistance and make suggestions about how you guys might make the magic happen for your grandson.

At the end of the day, the decision is hers and you must respect it, even if you disagree. But you can definitely do your part to support her emotionally, offer your help, and hope for the best.

Good luck and Happy Haunting to you and your family!

Do I Have To Chip In?

Dear Mamas,

I have been invited to a baby shower (another one!) and I need help in knowing what to do. The hostess wants us all to chip in to buy a $900.00 stroller for our friend who is having twins. This is so embarrassing because I really cannot afford to contribute as much as everyone else. My husband was laid off his job 4 months ago and I am only working part time. Anyway, we have worked hard to keep things as normal as possible but the financial pressure has been hard on our family.

But what can I say? I don’t want to be the only one not in on the gift but I really don’t have that kind of money right now. Any suggestions?


Dear Beth,
I totally get how contributing to all those baby showers/wedding showers/school fundraisers/neighbor’s-kids-girl-scout-cookie-sales etc. can break the bank, especially if funds are tight. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. We’ve all been in that boat. The thing is, when people ask for a donation they often forget that their request is but one of many and that we can’t contribute what we would like to all the time.

In this case, I think the best strategy is to contact the person throwing the shower directly and be candid with her. Tell her that although you would love to be a part of the gift, you can’t afford the amount that is being asked for right now. Let her know what amount would be comfortable for you and find out if there are other ways you could contribute in lieu of giving the full amount. Maybe she needs help with some of the hosting responsibilities like shopping, setting up, preparing food, cleanup or even picking up and wrapping the gift.

Or, you could offer to buy something within your budget that could go with the stroller, like a nice diaper bag or some cute sun hats and sun glasses. If that doesn’t fly, then just bring the gift you want to give and a lovely note to go along with it and leave it at that. I’m sure your friend will appreciate whatever you give her as long as it’s given with love.

Thanks for this question, Beth. It’s a good reminder to us all to be sensitive to the fact that people’s budgets are not all the same. And whenever we are doing the organizing we need to remember to qualify our financial requests with a statement indicating that although such-and-such an amount is being asked for, people should please give what they can by the date needed.

Is my 6-week-old allergic?

Dear Mamas,

I’m wondering if my baby is allergic to his formula. We adopted him at birth, so he’s still pretty new to us and we don’t know much about the family history. Can babies this young have food allergies already?

Gray seems to get an odd rash of bumps on his face after he eats. It is on his forehead in a little clump and some spots make their way behind his ear and on his neck and a few on his chest. Most are on his cheeks — there are hundreds! I have tried to pay attention to when it happens, and it is not after baby wipe use or lotion, but with feedings. The fact that it is more prominent on the left side of his face seems strange to me. He favors that side and feeds that way. He doesn’t seem to be bothered by it as far as I can tell. At least no scratching or fussiness because of it. It just looks awful.  I am convinced it isn’t baby acne because there are times when it literally is redder than others and he has had acne and that clears up within a few days. This isn’t going away. There is even a splotch that he gets near his eye and one on his eyebrow. I am attaching a picture that may help.

He is getting formula with baby cereal in the formula each time and gripe water AND Hylands all natural gas relief tablets.

Is this something you just deal with or do we have to be concerned that it starts as bumps but could progress to something more serious?

I appreciate any thoughts and opinions you may have. I looked at the ingredient list for the formula and it is kind of disgusting…………..WHY does it include corn syrup solids???!



Dear Stacy,

This is a question that comes up frequently, so thanks for asking. Children as young as 6 weeks can develop allergies, and the photo of the rash does look suspicious, but formula may or may not be the culprit.

Most food allergies in little ones will cause a rash, but not all rashes are caused by food allergies, and some diligent detective work may be required to tell the difference.  A few questions, hints and red flags about your description: Has Gray been on the same formula since birth? Is it milk based or soy based? When did you first notice the rash?

Why are you adding baby cereal to his formula? My ballpark guess is that he’s a spitter and someone suggested cereal to thicken it and reduce spit up. While this might work, it actually increases the risk of allergies and has little benefit. Infants under 4 months can’t digest or use the nutrients in solid food and spitting up in an otherwise healthy baby isn’t a health problem, it’s a laundry problem.

Similarly, gripe water and gas tablets have limited effect and may be responsible for the rash. There are other possibilities, too, like laundry detergent or other things that come in contact with his skin, but these are lower on the probability list based on the connection with feedings.

While this isn’t an emergency and there’s time to go through a process of elimination, food allergies do tend to worsen with exposure to the item, so you can expect the rash to continue until the culprit is identified and removed from his diet.

First, have your pediatrician take a look. The rash may have a characteristic appearance in person that can’t be seen in a photo that will give you an immediate answer. If not, try eliminating the cereal, gripe water and gas tablets (the nonessentials), and wait 3-5 days for them to get completely out of his system. At that point, if the rash seems to be improving you’ll know it was one of those items. If you must, you can add them back one at a time, waiting 3-5 days between, to identify which was responsible.

If the rash continues, try switching to an alternate formula type (soy if he was previously on milk-based, or vice versa) and watch for improvement for the same 3-5 day period. If the rash persists in spite of these changes, keep going down the list of everything that goes into or onto his little body. Allergies and rashes often require the Sherlock Holmes approach, so you may need to be patient until you find your answer.

BTW, we agree about the corn syrup solids. It’s an unnecessary additive that’s almost ubiquitous in our food. Let’s not get started on the subject of how our government subsidizes corn production. Sheesh! Check out Goodstart or Earth’s Best brands for a more natural ingredient list, but wait until you’re over the hump on this allergy question.

Good Luck!
~ The Mamas