She coos, you coo, we coo
By Martha Heineman Pieper, PhD. and William J. Pieper, M.D.
Q: I have a 3-month-old daughter who just started cooing. What is the best way to respond to her to encourage her to "speak" to me? Should I imitate her sounds or say something different in "my" language? A friend says that if you respond in "baby talk," the baby will never learn to talk. Thanks for helping. P.D., Rolling Meadows A: The most important thing to teach your baby about "talking" is that it’s fun. And your baby will have the most fun when you talk in her language. Research has shown there is a good reason for talking baby talk to babies: They learn from simple sounds and speech and are stimulated to vocalize more and more. When your baby coos to you, coo right back. At first, it’s best to try to imitate her. You will find that when she makes a cooing sound and you copy it immediately, she will be spellbound. She will be amazed at her ability to get you to respond to her sounds and inspired to make more of them. Some babies are happiest if you limit your responses to their sounds, others like it when you imitate them and add new sounds for them to try. Keep your talks pleasurable. It’s not what you say but your baby’s enjoyment of relating to you that will stimulate her to talk. TV news too scary for sensitive youngsters Q: I need help deciding what to let my 5-year-old watch on TV. My husband and I were watching the news this week and there was coverage of an airplane crash that killed 21 people. They showed the smoking wreckage and talked about how no one lived and they have no idea what happened. We are scheduled to visit my parents on the East Coast in a couple of weeks and now my son is having nightmares and says he doesn’t want to fly. Should we have shielded him from the news? My husband argues you can’t protect your children from "real life" and he just has to learn that bad things happen. What is your opinion? And how can we convince him to get on the plane? C.R., Chicago A: How much television news children should be exposed to depends both on their age and their psychological makeup. Children as young as your son have great difficulty distancing themselves from crimes and disasters. If they see a hit-and-run or a murder scene on TV, they typically feel the same horrible fate is about to happen to them. They may become visibly upset immediately, they may have nightmares or they may inhibit their activities in the hope of avoiding a similar fate (refusing to fly, for example). Each of these reactions indicates that seeing the news was overwhelming to the child and that the child needs to be shielded from similar news programs until he is older. Children older than 8 vary considerably in their reaction to sad events. Some are able to feel compassion for the people affected without becoming fearful themselves. But children as old as 13 can become depressed or anxious after seeing upsetting events on TV. As your child gets older, watch his reactions and try to limit his exposure to life’s horrors to a level he can handle. Often, when upsetting events are depicted on the TV news, children say they don’t want to watch. These efforts should be respected, not belittled. As to how to get your son on the airplane, we suggest that you tell him that while the plane crash was indeed upsetting to watch, that plane was very different than the one he will be flying on. You might also tell him the airlines will have learned from the crash so they can avoid the problem. Most importantly, assure him you are not worried. Tell him that perhaps when you get on board the pilot might be willing to reassure him in person. If none of this works and your son remains excessively fearful, it might be better to drive or take a train this time, if possible, and let the images of the plane crash fade from his mind for a time. Constant sibling bickering requires individual attention Q: I have two boys, 3 and 2. I know you don’t advise having children so close together, but the second son was not planned. All they seem to do is fight. They want the same toys and all my attention. The younger one usually gets the worst of it, although he retaliates by ruining a building project or taking his brother’s favorite stuffed animal. I send them to their rooms, give them time outs and more often than I would like, end up screaming at both of them. I am absolutely at my wit’s end. What do you suggest? K.V., Evanston A: Usually when siblings are fighting this persistently, each believes he is not getting enough parental attention and affection. If there is another parent, divide up and spend time with each of the boys, letting them experience some undivided attention and caring. Of course, if you are a single parent, then there is only one of you and satisfying the needs of two young children at the same time can be very difficult. But you can take advantage of times when one of the boys is sleeping, at preschool or at a friend’s house. Resist the temptation to use that time to get chores done and instead use it to give the other boy some alone time alone. Filling each of the boys with love and affection is the most effective way to get them to stop fighting. In the meantime, though, there are some strategies that might minimize the mayhem. For now, buy toys in duplicate to cut down on the squabbling. When fighting starts, rather than screaming or giving time outs, try keeping first one, then the other, boy by your side. Find them something to do or enlist them in your activity if possible (they can help vacuum, dust or do other chores). Cooperative activities that require both boys to "pull together," such as cooking where one pours and one stirs, can also cut down on friction. If you stick with this approach and add your own creative tactics, you will increasingly find that the boys are getting along better and perhaps even becoming good friends.Here’s your chance to get some answers to your pressing parenting questions. If you’re trying to figure out how to handle some aspect of your child’s behavior, send your question to Chicago Parent Q&A, 141 S. Oak Park Ave., Oak Park, IL 60302; or e-mail it to SPedersen@wjinc.com. The Piepers will respond to three questions per month. Sorry–they are unable to respond to questions that they do not answer for publication. For more answers to questions from readers since January 2000, visit our website, www.chicagoparent.com. Click on "archives" and then "Smart Love." For a more complete understanding of the Pieper's philosophy and psychology, read their book, "Smart Love: The compassionate Alternative to Discipline That Will Make You A Better Parent and Your Child a Better Person. Martha Heineman Pieper, Ph.D., and William J. Pieper, M.D., have a new book, Addictenships, Work, and the Life You Want (McGraw-Hill, 2002), about helping parents and other adults improve their own lives. They also wrote Smart Love (Harvard Common Press, 2001). The Piepers have spent more than two decades practicing psychotherapy with infants, children, adolescents and adults; counseling parents; and supervising other mental health professionals. The parents of five children, the Piepers live in Chicago.