ASK A MOM: Sunscreen, dry drowning, and controlling children

WBTV's Molly Grantham tackles your parenting questions in this ongoing series
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Q: My 8-year-old HATES sunscreen. He squirms, complains, and yells to the point my husband and I have to strong arm him to get it applied. Problem is, he’s super fair and needs it reapplied constantly or else he gets terrible burns. If we let him apply it himself, he misses spots and comes home from camp with streaks of sunburn. I can’t take another summer of this. Any ideas to make this easier?—Liz

A: You’re in good company. Lots of children “HATE sunscreen.” But as the adults overseeing them, we have to make them wear it. As a former lifeguard, pool rat, and year-round swimmer (and current beach lover raising my own children to pine for salt air), I look at the continued, regular application of sunscreen as a rule similar to “don’t touch a hot stove” and “no shoplifting.” It’s not debatable.

So… how to get kids to do it? If they’re younger than your son’s age of 8, make it a requirement to get in the pool or ocean. My two older kids know they can’t get out of it, so they’re used to letting me lather it on, but my 2-year-old isn’t there yet. He hates sunscreen—despises it, actually—but is learning he can’t get in the pool with his older siblings unless he stops by our “sunscreen station” first. (That’s generally me or one of his older siblings sitting on an outside chair waiting.) He likes to rub it in himself, so I let him put on the lotion in every which direction, tell him he’s “doing great!”, then tell him Mommy has the final step, and I use spray on his whole body evenly. That’s the layer that matters.

Sprays are generally easier (but need reapplied more often) and take less time. It can be 30 seconds, whole body, done. Have your son use a stopwatch or the timer on your phone to time you or whoever is applying the sunscreen to make it a game. This will also distract him. Each time you apply, aim to “beat” your record.

I recently discovered a new product that my 8-year-old fell in love with. His friend’s mom had what looked like a big blush brush, but it had sunscreen inside. She was patting her face while on the sand, and poolside, and I legitimately thought she was putting on makeup. When she explained it to me, I didn’t buy that it worked as sunscreen until I saw her husband using it too—with no shame. He said he’d been using it for months. After reading your question, I asked her for the link. She sent three, with various price ranges:

This is the one I saw her child and husband using.

This is the splurge she says that got her started.

This is the more affordable option she says she recently purchased for her 8-year-old to carry.

Good luck. It’d be easier for me to say, “Oh, no big deal—let him go without sunscreen for a few days,” but I think we can all agree that’s not true. We know too much about skin care and the dangers of blazing sunshine to ignore that knowledge.

Q: What is dry drowning?—Name withheld

A: “Dry Drowning” is a term that gets tossed around, but it’s not an actual medical diagnosis. It refers to someone who dies once out of the water, after being submerged. It happens when someone inhales too much water, causing their vocal cords to close over their windpipe, and ultimately prevents oxygen from getting into their lungs.

As describes it: “Dry Drowning is after you’ve fallen into water and been taken out. After taking in water through the nose or mouth, the muscles in your windpipe can become constrained to protect your lungs. Also known as ‘post-immersion syndrome,’ this condition is rare.”

Though rare, it does occur mainly in children. If your child is in the water and swallows too much or gets lots of water up his or her nose, look for symptoms quickly. Experts say “dry drowning” happens less than an hour after inhaling water. adds that 95% of children are fine after accidentally slipping underwater, but be “vigilant and aware of drowning symptoms once your child appears safe and dry” which include:

  • difficulty breathing or speaking
  • irritability or unusual behavior
  • coughing
  • chest pain
  • low energy or sleepiness after a water incident

If your child is having difficulty breathing, they may be unable to speak or express their symptoms. And if you see that happen, or any of the above symptoms, call 911 immediately. In the meantime, keep yourself and your child calm. Keeping calm can help the windpipe muscles relax faster.

Q: I am dealing with a controlling child. She challenges my rules and boundaries constantly, and lately I’ve noticed her getting bossy with her friends and younger brother. I hate to label girls “bossy” because I want her to be an assertive adult, but I’m afraid she won’t be well-liked in school. Any tips?—Alicia

A: Love this question, Alicia. Every parent sees qualities in their child that scream louder (and sometimes more critically) than they might appear to others. With that said, if you feel it… you feel it. I took your question to both a local clinical neuropsychologist and a local child therapist.

Gretchen Hunter, a clinical neuropsychologist with “Child & Family Development,” says please first know, this is normal. As kids grow, the three types of temperaments include:

  • Easy or flexible: Children with this temperament tend to be easy-going, happy, calm, and adaptable, and have regular sleeping and eating habits.
  • Active or feisty: Children with this temperament may be very active, fussy, and have intense positive or negative reactions to a variety of situations. They may also have irregular sleeping and eating habits.
  • Slow to warm or cautious: Children with this temperament may be hesitant or fearful in unfamiliar situations, move slowly, and prefer to watch a situation for a while before joining in. They may have a difficult time with changes, such as a new caregiver or a shift in the daily schedule.

“Based on a child’s temperament, they may display more controlling behavior as a way to manage stress from their environment,” Hunter says. “A child may feel overwhelmed if he or she wants to play sometime different, an adult makes a demand that they weren’t expecting, or the daily schedule changes. ‘Bossiness’ may ultimately emerge as a positive trait in that they can effectively advocate for their needs in an assertive manner.”

For the parent who fears it’ll impact a child’s social life in school, Hunter offers these tactics:

  • Be patient: A child’s first response to an unexpected request may be heightened emotionally; allow a pause for the child to possibly self-soothe.
  • Limit adult attention for ‘bossy’ behavior: Don’t provide undue attention for the behavior and make sure to limit negative attention.
  • When a child makes a demand, redirect them to a respectful request. Model how to appropriately ask. Tell them how the demand makes the listener feel.
  • Supervise playdates and interactions with siblings. If they get bossy, take them aside to tell them (don’t embarrass in front of friends).
  • Limit competition: If your child is having a hard time during sports, provide other activities that are more individualized or cooperative in nature.
  • Defuse power struggles: Offer your child as many choices as you can about daily tasks including clothing, food, and activities so that they have some control.
  • Make sure you’re modeling respectful requests yourself. Children learn from the tone of the communication from the adults around them.

Elizabeth Pinard is a certified Parent-Child Interaction Therapist (PICT) who works with parents and children to help improve behaviors. She adds that children thrive when they have clear boundaries in the home.

“I’d encourage this parent to make sure she is always being consistent with her rules and boundaries,” she says. “Otherwise, the child has incentive to test them because the parent may or may not follow through on a consequence. I would not get into a power struggle with the child, or long, drawn out explanations over why a rule must be followed. If there is a rule and it is broken, say that and follow up with a consequence that feels appropriate. Engaging in a power struggle can feel rewarding to children and cause this unwanted behavior to increase.”

Pinard also encourages this parent to be on the lookout for “positive opposites” of bossy behavior and “call out those goods” whenever they spot them. She reminds us that children thrive on praise, and when it’s specific, it’s more effective.

“Examples would be to give big praises to the child when she is using kind words with her brother or friends, sharing, or letting other people decide what they might do when playing together,” Pinard says. “Depending on the child’s developmental age, the parent might also engage her daughter in a conversation about what it would feel like if others were engaging in some of these behaviors with her.”

I loved your questions this month. Can you believe we’ll soon be preparing for school? As always, send any questions to the homepage on Charlotte Parent, and I’ll see you guys tonight at 5 p.m., 6 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 p.m., 6 p.m., and 11 p.m.