ASK A MOM: Explaining where babies come from, playdate etiquette, and painful haircuts
WBTV's Molly Grantham tackles your parenting questions in this ongoing series
Q: Molly, My 1st grader asked my husband where babies come from. He told her to ask me, which I’m fine with because I’d rather be the one to tell her. What’s the best way to explain this to a 6-year-old?—Name withheld
A: Dear Name Withheld—don’t be embarrassed. This is a normal question from a 6-year-old (so I was told when my kids asked the same thing). Many might defer to a counselor, friend, or parenting expert. But as a journalist who covers crime, was embedded in gang units, and has stood alongside federal agents tracking sex criminals, my thought is to explain things to kids from a lens of safety, not ease.
Meaning, when my oldest was younger, I asked police sources and FBI investigators how they talked about sex to their children. (NOTE: This was not some formal news story. I remember asking multiple people in law enforcement as a personal curiosity. How did they discuss these things with their kids?) I wanted my kids to know the difference between appropriate touching versus inappropriate touching, and figured dealing with tough(er) topics would eventually lead to the slightly easier discussion of “where babies come from.”
Unequivocally, they all said to use actual formal terms when talking about body parts. Say, “vagina.” Say, “penis.” Don’t give them some cutesy name. That way, if you hear your child call them something else, you know they heard it from a stranger.
“I hold Mr. Wiggles when I go to the bathroom!”
That kinda thing. If you’re not telling your son he has a Mr. Wiggles, someone else is. That’s a major red flag to you.
I took that advice and have used formal terms for body parts with both of my older two before they were in kindergarten. For the oldest, that naturally led into a sex conversation by 2nd grade. I found talking honestly—even though it felt slightly awkward to me—was the best approach.
But you don’t need to take my word for it. There are multiple websites that say the same thing: Be up front. You don’t need to share every detail, but treat the conversation with maturity. The best site I stumbled into while researching this question was actually an Australian-based parenting page. According to Raising Children, the Australian Parenting Website, here are specifics to say to your 1stt grader:
Ages 4-5: If your child asks, “Where do I come from?” you can reply with “What do you think?” That gets you to see what your child is really asking, and what they already do—or don’t—understand. (Find more on the link itself.)
Ages 6-8: The website says more questions center around sex at these ages. Be direct, but emphasize sex is something grown-ups do when they both want to, and it’s not for children. It’s also a good idea to say that sometimes babies enter families in different ways, like IVF, adoption, foster care, or grandparent care. (Find more on the link itself.)
Remember that you don’t have to wait for your child to ask. You can always start the conversation yourself…
Q: Hi, Molly. I’m starting to think my 7-year-old daughter isn’t popular. We’ve invited three different friends from school over for playdates and they seem to have a good time, but so far no one has reciprocated. I tell my daughter they’re probably just busy so she won’t think it’s her…but then she told me they won’t sit next to her on the bus. What if they’ve already decided she’s not one of the cool kids?—Alicia
A: It’s heartbreaking to think of our kids as having social issues. Fearing your child is being excluded can be a gut punch, and you’re fantastic to ask this question candidly.
There are probably a hundred different ways to think about the scenario you posed. So, I crowdsourced to give you options. Below are responses from two local professionals and three Charlotte moms, with kids varying in age from 5 to 15.
Before getting into their (good) ideas, I will say—for what it’s worth—being “popular” is different from having friends. Making sure our kids have peers who value them for who they are, seems more important than assuring they’re in a certain group. We want our children to be around people who make them happy. Whether your daughter is with “cool” kids doesn’t matter as much as her having fun with other people her age, period.
And now, your buffet of answers:
Mom of a 3rd grader and 1st grader: “I would call my daughter’s teacher and ask for his or her insight into the social dynamic at school. I would volunteer at school and try to see the dynamic play out in person. I would contact the moms of the girls who have already come over for playdates and reveal my heart and ask for their feedback or advice. I would move a damn mountain. Your girl is a cheetah, Alicia, she just needs some help finding her roar. Sending so much love.” [Molly’s Note: If you haven’t read Glennon Doyle, like this mom-friend clearly has, I highly suggest. So good.]
Licensed Psychologist Amanda McGough, with BASE Cognitive Behavioral in Charlotte: “Believe me, there are plenty of parents and kids in this situation. 1) Have your child identify one or two other kids they want to know better and build a friendship with. Often there are other kids who are also looking for friends. 2) Help your child find confidence in themselves (and new friends outside of school) through joining other activities, sports, church groups, etc. 3) Help the child understand ‘mean girl’ behavior can unfortunately start early. Teach them it is not okay to exclude someone, and that when someone does it says more about the other kids than your child. 4) Consider whether your child has age-appropriate social skills. Do they need help learning how to make friendships? If so, work with them or get them into a therapist to help develop these skills. 5) When needed, involve the school to get support.
Mom of a 7th grader and twin 3rd graders: “This came up a lot with one of mine. She now feels more empowered to be a good friend and look for kids who need a friend. I suggest telling your child it’s normal to feel lonely and left out at times. Let her know you understand and share a time that you felt hurt, too. Grow her confidence by helping her “role play,” with conversation starters to make new friends. If it gets to where she dreads the bus, offer up a book or something to help pass the time. Finally, I also talk to my kids about being a friend and having empathy. I bet your daughter will BE a great friend. As for the reciprocity, we all have seasons where it’s easy or hard to host playdates based on work and family logistics. It’s tough—and something that comes and goes our whole lives.”
Clinical Neuropsychologist Gretchen Hunter, with Child & Family Development in Charlotte: “COVID disruptions are likely at play here. Families are still getting back to regular routines, including seeking playdates, so there may be more caution in connecting with other families. But for younger elementary-aged children, parents should feel comfortable initiating relationships with other families to facilitate. They should also work on expanding their network of friends, both in-and-out of school, and with multi-age groups. With regard to explaining what’s going on to their child, I’d take it from the approach that we can’t control the actions of others. That friendships can’t be forced. Parents should strive to empathize with their child’s hurt feelings about being excluded on the bus but also encourage them to practice being ‘a good friend.’ Instead of an emphasis being on, ‘How can I make this particular group of children like me?'”
Mom of a Pre-K student: I recommend a series of books that also educates. A couple of the books focus on “friendships” and “what is a good friend?” It’s a UK-based series, which you can find here. The three I like lots are All About Friends, All about Feelings, and All About Families. Here’s one excerpt from All About Friends:
“Remember that if anyone…
- Is mean to you all the time.
- Often hurts your feelings.
- Leaves you out of things all the time.
- Makes fun of you or calls you names.
- Does unkind things on purpose.
…that person is NOT your friend and you need to tell a grown-up such as a teacher, parent, or caregiver about what is going on.”
Q: My toddler screams bloody murder whenever I take him to get a haircut. At first I thought it was the stylist so I tried a different place the next time, and same thing. His long hair is getting out-of-control and I have no business trimming it myself. What should I do?—Meaghan
A: Bribe them with treats.
I’m not kidding. Might sound like bad parenting 101, but I’m not into judgment and at the end of the day if you want their hair cut, you do what you have to do.
My kids knew they got lollipops if they went to see Miss Tiffany. My daughter is fine sitting high up in Miss Tiffany’s chair all princess-like, but my son hates heading to the salon. He grumbles, complains, and fights the whole car trip. Then we arrive and he acts shy. Miss Tiffany, who happens to also be a preschool teacher as a second job, puts lollipops on the table as a quiet incentive. If she cuts his hair, he gets one. Sometimes two.
I asked Miss Tiffany (whose actual name is Tiffany Satterthwaite with Salon Botanical in Charlotte) for actual professional advice. Something better than, “bribe them with treats.”
“Haircuts can be scary and very unknown to toddlers,” she said. “The stylist can also be the problem. Not everyone has patience for a screaming toddler, and that vibe can be passed on to the child. When this happens to me, I find it helps if the parent holds the child on their lap while I do the haircut. I also try to use that soft voice and calm them while working quickly. And, laugh all you want, the lollipops work. Treats are a universal medicine for children.”
Hope this helps. If all else fails, baby boy buns can be cute.
Thank you for the questions this month. As always, submit what’s on your mind to the area on the homepage on Charlotte Parent. Ask away—we’re all in this together. See you tonight at 5:00 p.m., 5:30 p.m., and 11 p.m.
MOLLY GRANTHAM is an anchor, author, and mom of three. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram, or catch her on WBTV News at 5:00 p.m., 5:30 p.m., and 11 p.m.