Breaking a toddler’s habits and raising a child with bipolar disorder were among the topics discussed in Family Almanac columnist Marguerite Kelly’s most recent Web chat. An edited excerpt is below.

My delightful son is about to turn 3, and I am embarrassed to admit that he is still getting a bottle at night, sleeping with a pacifier and sleeping in a crib. His dad has been deployed for nearly a year, which has been stressful for all of us, so I have been reluctant to make these tough changes. Now I am feeling guilty that I have put this off for so long. We have been talking about giving the pacis, bottles and crib away to babies who need them, and he says he is on board, but I’m not sure where to start. He also has a small security blanket for bedtime that I am okay with him keeping. For what it’s worth, he is developmentally normal and quite social.

I wouldn’t feel guilty about this. You’re expecting too much of yourself and of your little boy. Some children need a blankie longer than others; some need to suck more than others. If you want to grow him up quicker, then put a big boy’s bed in his room and tell him to let you know when he’s ready to make the switch. Don’t take away the bottle and the paci at the same time, though. When he’s adjusted to the bed, you might run out of milk for a few days, and when he’s used to a cup of water at bedtime, you might lose the pacifier. 

My 10-year-old nephew has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder but is too young for medication. He demands to be the center of attention and is impulsive, aggressive to his siblings, loud and uncontrollable. His parents look as though they are frightened of him. Any suggestions?

In all the years that I’ve been writing the Family Almanac, one pattern has stood out above all others, and it is — diet. Allergies, sensitivities and an inability to tolerate some foods can wreck a child’s disposition, because what is great food for one child can be a disaster for another, and that’s not just dyes, additives and preservatives. 

Some children can’t process gluten. (I saw one child completely fall apart after she had gluten — in a communion wafer!)  And I’ve seen a child flip out after having a glass of milk, when she hadn’t had any milk for five days. 

If this were my child, I’d take him off of all dyes, preservatives and salicylates(the Feingold diet) for about six days to see if his behavior improved. If it did, I’d keep him off of them. If it didn’t, I’d take him off of casein and gluten and see if he began to act better. If he did, I’d keep him off of those things for three more weeks, then give him a glass of milk and see if he got worse. If he did, dairy might be the culprit, because it seems to take about a month to get rid of casein symptoms and about three months to get rid of gluten intolerance — therefore, he should stay off of gluten for three months. 

I know this sounds like a huge lot of work, but it’s much much easier to care for a happy, easygoing child than a loud and uncontrollable one.

Read the rest of the transcript and find more of Kelly’s columns in the Advice section.

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