consistent

The shift from having a social life and being flexible before you had children can be a jolt when you think about putting your baby to sleep around the same (early!!) time every night. Is it worth it? Can’t you be the cool parents who have a baby and still have a life? Well, Let’s look into this a bit more.

We know that sleep is awesome for kids and especially for parents. But we’re not always sure why or how to get there.

Sleep is key to harmony in families and a new study just found that it also affects how children function at school (even many years later).

This article in the Wall Street Journal talks about the toddler and preschool years which are often the hardest to be consistent.  But those years are when the brain is developing and enormous rates and needs the consistent sleep.


It is hard as a parent to forgo some of our old habits (happy hour, evening hikes, dinner at a friend’s house) but when we know the importance of a consistent bedtime, it will be easier to make those changes.

If you start today with a consistent bedtime, you will also see an immediate change in behavior.  Children who are tired are much more cranky, defiant and difficult than children who are less tired.  

Children who have consistent bedtimes also go to bed easier and quicker than children with an uneven routine. 

So you know that things will get easier (albeit less social) when your children go to bed almost the same time each night, but we now also know that it will help academically down the road due to healthy brain development.

So back to the new non-existent social life: it is gone forever?  No.

Once you have a consistent bedtime set up, you can stick to the schedule about 90% of the time and through fate into the wind about 10% of the time and your child will still benefit from having a consistent schedule.  This will actually make traveling easier and will make those couple of times that you are spontaneous easier because your children will just fall into your schedule whether you are on a train, in a car, on a plane or off too far. 

So how important is a consistent bedtime?  Very important!

 

co sleep

I just read another article discussing co-sleeping versus sleep training and after reading the scathing comments afterwards it really feels like parenting is becoming as polarizing as politics.

There are families where co-sleeping is definitely the right decisions  and there are families where sleep training is definitely the right decision and there are even many families who have done both depending on the child or the situation.

There is only one thing that all of these families need to be thinking about with their children and that is one things is sleep associations.

So it doesn’t really matter which style you choose, just make sure that you think about what sleep associations your child is making and just be aware of how they are falling asleep.

What is a sleep association?  A sleep association is something outside of the child that helps the child fall asleep.

Common sleep associations are:

Darkened space

Rocking motion

Snuggling

Sucking

White noise

Lovey

Routine

Music

These are all things that help a child fall asleep no matter whether you are co-sleeping or sleep training.

So as your child gets older, you will want to look at what sleep associations your child relies most heavily on.

  • If your child will only fall asleep while rocking and with white noise (i.e. in the car), and you know that your child won’t be able to rock if they are in a bed or a crib, then know what white noise is a must and that you will need to add in another sleep association once you take away the rocking.
  • If your child will only fall asleep while sucking (bottle or breast) and you know that they will need to wean from the bottle or the breast soon, then you can look at other associations to replace the sucking.  Or just can introduce the pacifier or thumb-sucking to replace the other sucking.

When we talk about sleep associations, someone might interpret that having sleep associations is a negative thing.  But it isn’t.  They are essential.  They are how we learn to sleep.  So this doesn’t mean that you never nurse your child to sleep as an infant because they will always associate nursing with sleeping because that isn’t true.   Infants nurse to sleep.  And as they grow, they learn new associations.  All of these are positive things and all are used to fit the child, the family and the situation.

Speaking of situations, they change.  You may have a child who co-sleeps wonderfully with you in the family bed.  You are happy, your husband is happy and your child is happy.  However, you soon find out that you are pregnant and you realize that you will need to move your child to their own bed.   This is a common scenario and a very stress-inducing one at that.  Your child knows that snuggling with you and either breast-feeding or drinking a bottle in your bed means that it is time to sleep.  So those two sleep associations (sucking and cuddling) mean sleep.

But now you need to move your toddler into their own room.  Set up the room with new sleep associations.  Maybe get a noise machine and black out curtains.  If you have a rocker, use that in the new room.  See if your child attaches to a lovey.  All of these are possible new sleep associations that will replace the cuddling and sucking associations.  If you have the time, only remove one sleep association at a time.  So if you are breast-feeding, you can continue to do that while moving your child into their new room.  It will mean that you will need to come to the room to feed which initially be less sleep (stick to it; you can do it!!) but more sleep in the long run.  Once your little one is settled in the new room, then you will remove breastfeeding as a sleep association.  You will need to keep your little one awake and make sure they go down drowsy but awake.  Then you can be there to shush, sing, pat their tummy, etc., until they fall asleep.  Sounds easier on paper than in real life but again, this isn’t forever.

Your goal: remove sleep associations that are more work with sleep associations that are less work as the child gets older.  This is a process that you may have to do over and over.  Change is inevitable.

With each change, your child may protest and they may be tears.  But don’t fear change. It’s ok if they cry.  You will be there to support them through the change.

 

better

I’m going to cut to the chase and give you the three steps to better behavior right now.  Before you do any thing (go to the grocery store, get ready for bed, go to a friend’s house, etc) tell your kids:

  1. What it is going to look like
  2. What are the expectations
  3. What will happen if they don’t do what they are supposed to do

 

Ok, now that you know the 3 magic steps, let me walk you through some situations and why these 3 steps are so important!

Kids thrive on routine because they know what is coming next.  If you always get dressed right after breakfast, then kids often run to the clothes dresser right after breakfast because they know what is coming.  They know what to expect.  So just take this same idea out into the world.

Are you going to the library?  Tell your kids.  Are you going to let them check out 55 books.  Tell them that they get 55 books.  Do they get to play on the computer for 20 minutes.  Let them know.  Do you only have space in your bag for 6 books?  Then tell them they only get 6 books.  Do you have time to play at the park afterwards or will your parking limit run out of time and you’ll have to head home?  Let them know ahead of time.

Where else could you use this technique?  The store, the doctor, grandma’s house, running errands, a playdate, going out to dinner, flying on a plane, road trip up to the mountains, getting ready in the morning.  The possibilities are endless.

A lot of parents don’t tell children what is going to happen ahead of time with things that are unpleasant like going to the doctor or dropping them off somewhere.  But we need to build trust with children and we do that by preparing them for the good and the bad.   Before we go to the doctor, I tell them whether they are getting shots or not and then we talk about what we’ll do after the shot (go get ice cream or go to the park).   This way they know what to expect and they are actually less nervous than they would be if they were guessing the whole time (Is this the place that hurts?  What’s going to happen? Am I going to be safe?!?)

The second part is to let them know what the expectations are.  This is true for adults as well. I mean, we all like surprises now and then, but what if you signed up for a hiking trip and then found out that it was a hard-core rock-climbing trip or maybe the hiking trip was actually walking a 1/4 mile.  Both of those would be difficult to deal with because your expectations were totally different than what was presented.  So if you are going to a friend’s house and they don’t mind if the kids jump on the couch, let your kids know.  But if there are going to be fancy tables and maybe even a glass vase somewhere in the living room, tell your kids ahead of time, “no running around AT All at our friends house. We can run outside afterwards, but no running while we are there.”   

I once met up with some college friends and their toddlers at a fancy hotel room that an out-of-town friend had booked.  One of the friends walked it and said, “oh jeez, this place is nice, too bad my kid is totally going to tear it apart.”  So the kid looked up at his mom right after she said that and subsequently began to tear the room apart.  That was her expectation for what he was going to do and so he fulfilled that expectation like any kid would.

This works for bedtime too.  If bedtime isn’t what you were hoping it would be and it is a mess of emotions, push-back, fussing and headache, then make a plan of what bedtime should be.  Find a picture schedule online and use the parts that work for you.  Add in other parts and take out what won’t work.  Then let your kids know.  Talk to them about what they need to do.  Do you help them with their pajamas but they need to brush their own teeth?  Let them know what the expectations are.

Finally, let kids know what will happen if they do or don’t do what is expected of them.

On long days with lots of errands or chores, I list the things that need to be done and then the last thing is something enjoyable, something outside, something relaxing or energy releasing.  This way, kids have something to look forward to and know that they need to hold it together for such and such amount of time before they can release it all.  And if there are issues, problems, etc, then the errands stop and everyone heads home.  Now they can still run around at home, you can still take some space in your room if it was really bad, but the last stop at the park didn’t get added into the mix if the kids just couldn’t handle everything.  And it’s ok.  Your kids won’t always be able to run 3 errands in a row.  They won’t always be able to sit while they eat at a restaurant.  And if they can’t sit, then it means it is time to go home, maybe time to go to bed.

Time to start again new tomorrow.

And the next time, let them know ahead of time and chances are, they’ll be able to do it.

 

reading

So hopefully, at some point you have built story time into your day or into your nighttime routine.  If not, you can start at anytime.  It felt really weird reading to my infants who couldn’t even keep their head up (why in the world would they have interest in a book that they can’t see, hear, understand?!?) But not long after that, they were looking at the pictures, and then right after that they were pointing and now they can talk for hours about each book that we read!

So- here are my top 5 tips for reading bedtime stories to toddlers:

1) Routine- Read in the same place whether it be a bed, chair, couch or book nook.  Also do the same thing before and after the book.  We would put on pajamas, brush teeth, read our book and then go to bed.  When we would be out traveling (or in our car, or on a plane) we would follow that same routine and the boys would go right to sleep no matter where we were since we had a nice routine.

2) Be OK with the same book every night for the next three years.  Not only do kids love repetition but it is imperative for their learning.   They build relationships with their books and reading through repetition.  They also learn about sounds, letters, reading, rhymes and rhythm when you read the same book over and over and over and over and over.

3) Snuggle – Be comfortable.  If your reading space isn’t comfortable and cozy then find some pillows or a place that you really look forward to every night.  If you are reading in bed and it causes you to strain your neck, then get more head support or move to a seated reading space.  If you really look forward to reading each night, then undoubtedly your kids will too.

4) Be silly– Have voices, read fast, then slow, loud then quiet.  Give the story life!

5) Extend the story – Maybe just read a couple of pages and then be open to talking about anything or everything. If they start talking, don’t shush them, follow their lead.  The goal of story time isn’t necessarily finishing the book, but it is connecting, talking, learning more about each other and the world.  The story might be about a fish going to bed and all they want to talk about are the colors of the fish, then talk about the colors.  There will be a million other nights to read about the fish’s story- let tonight be about the colors.

Enjoy reading with your kids- one of life’s simplest joys.

 

twos

Even if you don’t have kids or ever thought of having kids, you have still heard of the “terrible twos” which has now expanded into the “threenager” and the “F- you fours”.    I love all of these descriptions because it really helps parents navigate these ages and it says, “You are not alone.”  “These ages are tough!”

But after spending some time outside of the good ol’ USA, I started to wonder if the “terrible twos” were an American fabrication.

Basically the terrible twos are children exploring independence.  It’s not a bad thing as I explain in this post about independence. But we have interpreted the constant “no’s” as terrible rather than as an opportunity for learning and responsibility.

So what happens in other countries that doesn’t happen in the states? Or vice versa; what doesn’t happen there that does happen here?

Good question.

I think the answer is two-fold:

Parents don’t put up with s#*$t in other countries

In the USA, we want to take such good care of our children, that we let them run the show.  Parents want to support their children, they want to nourish their children and they don’t want to squelch their children.  This desire for their children to bloom can co-exist with setting limits and letting children know what is allowed and what isn’t.  But unfortunately (often due to social media, but also other cultural factors) it manifests itself into never wanting the child to cry or be distressed, so sometimes we as parents backtrack until everyone is happy again.  But this just creates more strife and more terrible behavior.

Parents allow their children independence in other countries

We all grew up with stranger danger and it is so strong that even though it has been proven that most child abductions and child abuse come from people that children already know, we are still scared of the world.  It is OK to give our children some independence.  Even if it takes twice the amount of time, we need to let them put their shoes on.  And they can wear shoes that don’t even match and are on the wrong feet.  We can let them help us cut vegetables without worrying about ending up in the emergency room.  They can climb trees, they can dig holes for our garden, they can choose a cereal box off the grocery shelf.   This is a gift that only you can give them.  They deserve the chance to be more independent and you deserve the respite that it brings when they fuss less.

 

How can we learn from other countries?

Get your little ones a passport and book a flight to learn all the different ways to raise a child.  Then start setting some limits on what behavior is allowed in your family and what behavior isn’t allowed.  Then open the door to your children.  Let them explore the world.

 

 

 

calm

Does it seem like all your toddler does is fly off the handle? Do you feel overwhelmed by your toddler’s behavior?  Or is your child pretty awesome, but still has these moments where you just don’t know what to do?

Here’s my top 5 tips to help calm your toddler.

Control

Toddlers are learning about their world and asserting their independence and the easiest way for them to assert their independence is to throw a fit.  So to help them navigate their world, you can help them to be in more control by giving your children some control.   When you give control, they don’t need to take it by way of a tantrum.  So give your child little bits of control throughout the day, and they will be more calm.  Let them choose which shoes to wear to the park.  Give them control over how many necklaces they want to wear.  Allow them to choose their snack.  Ask them which pajamas they want to wear.  This will lessen the amount of time that they are battling you and will create calmness in the house.

Get outside

Nature is Therapeutic.  If you are feeling at the end of your rope, or if you child is losing it; head outside!  Nature will raise your spirits, it will help you breathe, it will calm your nerves.  Once you are outside, you will probably get some exercise and if you get some exercise you will sleep better and if you sleep better, you will be more calm.  This works for your kiddos too.

Check sleep routines

On of my mantras to my children is “when I’m tired, I get pretty fussy.”  They see this in action as I can be short with them when I am more tired.  The same is true for my kids.  If they are getting fussy, it probably means that I need to move bedtime sooner or get a nap in.  If tiredness is a constant, then looking at how much sleep kids are getting and how the routines are working is a must.

Teaching calming down techniques

It’s hard to calm down if you don’t know how to do it.  So, what are some techniques? The first technique is taking a deep breath.  Teach this technique all the time and do it when everyone is happy and calm.  When is the best time to do that?  Right before dinner or right before bed or during a bath.  Say, “Smell the roses” as you breath in deeply.  Then say, “Blow out the candles” and release your breath.

Another technique is taking space or taking a break.  When children are very little, just a change of scenery will be enough to calm a child down.  Read a book, look outside or go to a different room.  Sometimes they will need more space and will need to be alone for a little while.  Also known as a “time-out”, if children are taught this technique in a calm way, it can be very effective.

Model behavior

I hear over and over again how parents feel bad when they get upset with their children.  But getting upset isn’t a bad thing.  It is totally normal.  It is also a perfect time to model calming down techniques.  You get upset at something.  You yell.  Then you say out loud “I am really upset right now and I need to find a way to calm down!!” (If you can identify your behavior, your children will learn how to do the same.) Then you say (or yell!) “I’m going to take some deep breaths right now and I hope that helps!!!” or “I’m going to take 5 minutes in the bathroom or my bedroom right now and try to calm myself down!!”.  Your child will be staring at you in disbelief but will be watching and learning about how to calm down.

Once you are calmer, you can talk about what worked and what didn’t.  You can also apologize if you did something that you wish you hadn’t.  That is also a great learning experience for children and better in the long run for children than to have parents that never make any mistakes at all.

 

consent

In all this talk about consent with teenagers and young adults, it is important to look at how we teach our young boys.  We should also be teaching our girls about consent, but the two lessons are different.  Here’s what you can do with your little boys:

Boys like to play physically and that is a good thing. Boys like to push boundaries physically and that is also a good thing.  Boys need to know that “stop” means “stop” even when (and especially when) they are toddlers and preschoolers.

I just read this comic strip about consent and I think it is brilliant, but I truly believe that the teaching starts when children are very young.  It starts when they are playing around with their father, brothers, neighbors, friends.

In my household, tickling is a very common thing.  The boys love to tickle and their papa loves to tickle.  When they were answering questions for their Father’s Day presents, the most common response was, “I love it when my papa tickles me.” “My favorite thing about my papa is tickling”.

However, in the midst of a tickling fest, there will often be a “no!”  or a “stop!”.  No matter who is saying the no or the stop, the action has to stop.  This is important for my boys to know and it is also important for my husband to know.  Because this is where it gets tough.  They are having fun, there is momentum to continue, but they also want to stop.  But as soon as anyone says “no” or “stop”, they have to stop.

This isn’t as easy as it sounds.  Everyone is having fun, everyone is laughing and no one really wants it to end, it just got to be too much.   But this is where little boys learn about physical limits, respecting the other person, and being able to stop something that has a lot of momentum.

It isn’t easy for my husband either.  He knows that another tickle will get another laugh and he doesn’t want to fun to end.  But “no” means “no” and “stop” means “stop”.  

It may sound like I might be stretching; relating fun wrestling and tickling with little boys to consensual sex with teenagers and adults, but it isn’t a stretch.   If you wait until your son is a teenager to teach about consent, respect and “no” means “no” then you are waiting too long.

 

consent

I’ve been reading a lot lately about teaching consent and how to get the point across to students in college and high school and as young as middle school.  But you can very easily start with toddlers and preschoolers about consent. 

You have to be the model.

It is super duper important that dads and other adult male figures wrestle and rough-play with their boys.  There have been lots of studies on why this is important.  But probably the most important part of the play is communication.  

As soon as your child says “stop” or “no” or shows sign of no longer wanting to continue (whining, frowning, etc) then you stop and say, “You’re done, I’ll stop.”  

Then the hard part is actually stopping.  Your child will turn around and want to wrestle some more and here’s where the teaching and the learning begins.  “No, I could tell a minute ago that you had enough.  We’ll stop for now and if you want to play again later. Let me know.”  And your child is going to say, “I wanna wrestle more!” and again, you are the model.  “That’s good, but you just said, “No” and I’m going to respect that.  Let’s toss a ball or read a book for a bit and then we can see how you are feeling later.”  

This is hard.  It is SO hard because you were both having fun and even though your little one showed a sign of not wanting to continue, they are saying that they do.  And you have to teach them that no means no, that we communicate in many ways and that we are respectful of each other.  

If you are the dad, then you need to do this.  Do this for all our sons and daughters.  If you are the mom, talk about it with the dad and be the voice that says, “He said no, you need to stop.”

It’s funny because I’m always reminding my husband to stop when either child fusses, says no, or shows that they don’t want to continue playing.  But a couple of weeks ago, I was playing with my boys and we were both laughing and though the laughter, one of them yelled, “No!” and I didn’t stop.   Then from across the room, I heard my husband say, “He just said ‘stop!’ You need to stop!”  and I stopped and thanked my husband because sometimes we all need reminders.

There’s a lot of great articles about teaching children about their private parts and being comfortable with saying no or about children and adults asking for permission to hug or touch.  All of these things together are how we build a new culture of respect and consent. 

love

Is your child fussing up a storm right now because you told her that she can’t have the one thing that she wants?  That sounds about right.

And as parents, we need to set limits so we keep telling her no.

And that just makes her fuss more so we want to give in so that the fussing can end.  But here’s what you can say,

You can’t have that one thing that you want, but you can have lots and lots of love.

Tonight was tough because everyone was tired and when papa came to give good night kisses, one of my boys refused.  So we said, that’s ok if you don’t want a kiss and a hug, now it’s time to go to bed.

Ten minutes later, when I was laying with the boys, a quiet voice said, “I want a kiss and hug from papa.”  Who in their right mind would refuse that?  Oh man, how sweet.  So there I was, smack in the middle of every parent’s dilemma.  Do I just give in and let him have this that will help him fall asleep? Or do I hold my ground?

I said,

You can’t have a kiss and hug from papa now, but you can have lots and lots of love from me.

Trust me, this wasn’t the first time that this has happened.

My boys are typical toddlers and they fuss about what they want, then they change their mind and then they fuss some more.  And as parents, we need to set limits but we also want to parent in a positive way.   So as soon as we tell them that they can’t have what they want, they start to fuss.  They start to yell, cry, kick, scream and throw themselves on the ground.  We want to follow through and not let them get whatever they ask for, but we also don’t want to yell, kick and scream back at them.

So we hold our ground, follow through, and still give them all the love that they need.

Let’s say that your child wants the green shirt.  So you give him the green shirt.  Then two seconds later, he spills juice on the green shirt.  This is a recipe for disaster.

I probably don’t have to go into describing the following scene which then gives you three choices:

  1. You can clean the juice off the shirt, run it through the dryer, and move on with your day
  2. You can take the shirt, prepare for the tantrum storm, deal with the tantrum in whatever way you can for that day or
  3. You can take the shirt and give a big hug with lots of kisses and snuggles (which probably won’t be taken) and say:

You can’t have that shirt, but you can have lots of love and hugs from mama.

I’ve been talking a lot lately about positive parenting and time outs and this is where we set limits and clear and consistent boundaries in a positive way.

 

sleep 2

If you have a child, or even just know a child, you have probably heard all of the advice for helping your child sleep.  From Ferber to bed-sharing, there is a wide spectrum of philosophies.  Your head is probably spinning from all of the information, so I’m going to break it down for you.

 

the-sleep-spectrum

The crazy thing is, that contrary to the comment sections on blog posts, your children will be just fine no matter which of these methods you choose.  It really comes down to your family and how everyone will get the best sleep.

You may have heard that having your child cry-it-out could be traumatizing for your children, but the reality is that all children cry and get upset. And as you can see in the info-graphic above, if you stop your child from nursing or sleeping with you (no matter where you fall on the spectrum), then you will illicit some tears.   It should also be known that the statement about traumatizing children is based one study that was done with a small sample and in a sleep laboratory.  There is another study that looks at children 5 years later whose parents used different cry-it-out techniques and who show “no lasting harm”.  Until many, many studies that are longitudinal and have a large sample size have been done, you can rest assured that your child will be fine if you allow them to cry it out.

That doesn’t mean that you should, though.  If if doesn’t work for you, then don’t do it.

You may have also heard that if you allow your children to nurse on demand and share a bed, then they might be smothered or they may continue nursing and bed-sharing until they are eleven years old.  The SIDS fear has been blown out of proportion because many people mistake co-sleeping for bed-sharing and they are not the same.  Very young infants are safer if they are in a bassinet or co-sleeper and not in the same bed. However, there are many studies that show the benefits of co-sleeping and bed-sharing as the infant gets older and as long as the parents follow safe guidelines.   So if you are not drinking alcohol or smoking and you are enjoying the night nursing and toddler bed-sharing, then you by all means, co-sleep and breastfeed for as long as you want.

That doesn’t mean that you should, though.  If it doesn’t work for you, then don’t do it.

The one thing that we know for sure is that sleep deprivation is a real thing and it isn’t OK.  It can cause depression, memory loss, grumpiness, the breakdown of marriage, not taking care of your self or your children among other things.  So if you are experiencing extreme sleep deprivation then you should do something!  

Here are some tips that help no matter where you find yourself on the spectrum:

1. Mom needs at least 5 hours of uninterrupted sleep

This is where dad or another care giver comes in.  If you are exclusively nursing, start introducing a bottle once nursing is established so that you can pump and dad can take care of feedings during those five hours.  This means that mom goes to bed when baby goes to bed and for the next 5 hours, mom sleeps in another room and has earplugs in while dad feeds, rocks, carries, soothes baby.  Once the 5 hours are up, dad has the rest of the night and mom takes over with the feedings.   

2. Routine

Once the baby is 3-4 months old, a routine can start to take shape.  Routines are really the cornerstone for good sleep habits.  With a routine, many children don’t need any sleep help, they simply fall asleep on their own due to the consistency and comfort of knowing what’s going to happen next.  Of course, many more infants, babies and toddlers need more help than just a routine.

3. The “French Pause”

This was made famous by Pamela Druckerman’s book, Bringing Up Bebe, where she talks about how the french culture always waits a minute or two before they rush to the baby’s side.   This allows the parent to determine what kind of fuss they are experiencing and often allows the child to settle themselves.  

4. Sleep associations

Newborns are always going to fall asleep nursing or drinking from the bottle so that is always everyone’s first sleep association.  But you can start to build in other sleep associations that go alongside nursing if you eventually want more independent sleeping.  White noise, music, essential oils, a special toy or lovey, or a certain kind of light are all good things to do while your child falls asleep so that you can remove one association and keep another to help them achieve independent sleep. 

5. Make sure your child doesn’t get overtired

An overtired child is a child who will never go to sleep.  They become hyperactive to keep themselves awake.  They go and go and go until they crash.  This is not a healthy situation for anyone.  Keep a lookout for signs of tiredness and use them to your advantage.  When you see yawns, droopy eyelids, decreased activity, or even some crankiness, it is time to put your child to sleep.  If you can, start the process before this happens so that once they are showing signs, you are right on schedule.

6. Have an active day and get outside

Be sure to get your children outside at least once per day.  It helps regulate their bodies and helps with night sleep.  The more active children are during the day, the better they will sleep at night.  This doesn’t necessarily mean keeping them from napping since sleep begets sleep, but it does mean to have a fun and active day!