“Fatherly Advice” is a weekly parenting advice column by the experts at Fatherly. Need hard-won insights and scientific facts to resolve a parenting dilemma or family dispute? Email firstname.lastname@example.org. Need justifications for parenting decisions you’ve already made? Ask someone else. We’re far too busy for that nonsense.
My baby is teething, and it’s about as bad as I thought it would be. There’s a lot of crying and fussiness. But my grandmother suggested I put whiskey on my baby’s gums to help her. I’m almost ready to try anything, but should I try that?
Bismarck, South Dakota
Whiskey is a fine remedy for any number of maladies, including consciousness, sobriety, and the constant crushing feeling that the world is crumbling, inexorably, around you. It is not, however, a good remedy for discomfort associated with teething.
It’s possible your grandmother used this technique with one of your parents. Alcohol was once considered relatively benign when applied for medicine rather than pleasure. But that doesn’t mean that it was actually benign, because even a few drops of whiskey on a baby’s gums can affect their system.
“But it’s only a few drops and I turned out okay!” I hear the grouches shout at their computer. But think about it: whiskey often arrives in a shot glass. And for many adults, a single shot can provide a soft buzz. These are large people with muscles and fat and a larger circulatory system. When you consider the size of a teething baby, it becomes easier to understand how a few drops could act much as a whiskey shot might with an adult at the bar.
And that’s likely one of the reasons babies getting whiskey on their gums became calm. It wasn’t the anesthetic effect of the alcohol. Most whiskeys are too low in proof to cause a topical numbing effect and babies slobber so much any whiskey that was applied would be washed away and down the gullet in second anyway.
But the rubbing alcohol on a kid’s gums does offer a clue for a non-alcoholic way forward. Look to the operative part of the task: rubbing. The simple act of rubbing your babies gums (with clean hands, obviously) can help relieve discomfort. That’s particularly true if you let them chomp down a couple of times. But, if you’d rather your kid not use your digits as a chew toy, there are plenty of non-toxic options. I’m particularly fond of the wood teethers that look like brass knuckles.
But as whiskey goes, so goes topical teething anesthetics. They too are washed away quickly and some have been found to contain chemicals that can lead to serious medical conditions. The FDA recently warned against such products containing benzocaine because it can cause a serious medical condition that can cause a baby’s blood oxygen levels to plummet.
If you’re looking for something that soothes and numbs, it’s far better to think “cold.” Wet a washcloth and place it in the freezer. When it’s nice and frozen, twist up a corner of the cloth and let your baby chew on it. The texture and chewing will provide a nice gum massage while the coldness numbs nerve endings.
Then, while your baby is gnawing on the frozen washcloth, you can sip a shot whiskey yourself, Randall. Because there’s no better remedy than whiskey for relieving the overwhelming weight of responsibility for taking care of a kid who is actively growing teeth. Cheers!
My teenage son has been talking about something called BDE. I know the acronym stands for “big dick energy” but is that really a thing a guy can have? And how do I know if I have it?
San Diego, California
This is a tough one, Gerald. There’s kind of a zen quality about BDE. Like, if you want to have it, you probably don’t have it. And if you do have it, you’re not trying to make people think you have it. That said there are ways to tell if a person (it’s not gender specific, interestingly enough) is buoyed up by BDE.
First, let’s define it for everyone who doesn’t have a teenage son. Some people suggest that BDE was coined to describe the affable and quiet confidence wielded by comedian and fiance to Ariana Grande, Pete Davidson. Although Davidson is an apt example the phrase was actually coined as a description of the late Anthony Bourdain. Again, Bourdain was a man with an easy-going aplomb who gave zero shits about what people thought about him. That said, his assurance never came with dickishness. As much as he was critical of others, he was equally if not more self-effacing in a good-natured way. And that’s really what BDE is all about.
Worrying about whether you do or don’t have BDE isn’t really a BDE quality. Neither is having some sort of groomed, self-aware swagger meant to look like BDE. It’s more about having a sense of personal strength and autonomy. And importantly, it can be passed from generation to generation.
But even if you didn’t happen to have BDE (I don’t know you well enough to make that judgment call, Gerald), your son could very well have it. That’s because, more than anything, BDE is a condition of self-respect and a good self-image. If you can foster that in yourself and in your son, you’re both well on your way to walking with that self-assured energy. As a friend of Fatherly, psychologist John D. Moore recently said about fostering BDE, it’s about “Encouraging confidence in kids. This means praising them when appropriate, but reinforcing the delicate balance of pride and humility.”
And that’s about the best way a Dad can amp us his own BDE as well.
My son, Chance, really looks like he’s ready to get walking. He loves to pull up on my fingers and stand for a little bit, but I never catch him cruising along the furniture and practicing on his own. Is cruising a necessary step before he starts walking? How do I help him get going?
Cruising was one of my favorite stages of development when my boys were growing up, Tommy. For one, I never stopped finding it hilarious that the term for a baby pulling themselves up and along furniture was the same for kids driving in aimless circles, trying to get a date. For two, a baby’s proud, excited and sometimes frustrated “cruising face” is insanely adorable. In short, I’m equal parts nostalgic for where you are and excited to report it’s fairly easy to get your kid cruising.
But first, there are some things to remember about developmental stages that aren’t particularly obvious. First, consider that every kid is different. They will arrive at the cruising stage at a wildly diverse range of ages. So just because a friend’s kid started cruising at 9-months-old doesn’t mean your kid won’t start at 10 or 11-months-old. Second, there is no telling just how long the cruising phase might last. Your kid might have been quietly studying this whole walking situation for a while. It’s even possible Chance has been practicing while you’re not looking. At any rate, he may not do much cruising at all to get himself walking. On the other hand, he may cling to the couch for awhile before striking out.
With all that in mind, there are some helpful tips to get Chance up and cruising. The first step is to make sure that he has safe places to practice. While there’s no need to move your furniture or buy new furniture, it helps if your kid has a natural circuit he can walk, with small gaps between objects he can hold on to. For instance, he might cruise along the couch and then work on transitioning to an adjacent ottoman, shelf, or table. The longer the circuit, the more fun he’ll have traveling and exploring.
To build up that moment, you’ll want to tempt him with toys. Aim for bright soft toys that will draw his attention. They key is to place them just out of reach so he has to work a little to get them. This will keep him moving in the direction of the toy, like a greyhound after the rabbit, just not as fast. But be sure to let him get his hands on the toy every once in awhile or meltdown will ensue.
You’ll also want to have an eye on safety. Even a small baby pulling up on a topheavy shelf can make it topple. So make sure everything is anchored securely in your home. You’ll also want to be cautious about sharp corners and edges on furniture. There’s no need to pad everything, but if you have, say, a coffee table with a pointy corner, you may want to cover it up temporarily.
Finally, you may be tempted to get Chance into a walker or push-behind toy. Don’t do it. Walkers are objectively dangerous and like push behind toys they don’t allow cruisers to develop the balance and posture they need to become proficient toddlers. Stick with letting him explore the natural environment. And keep your phone out for those amazing cruising faces.