Managing Toddler Sleep Problems

Judy Arnall discusses sleep guidelines

If you have a child between the ages of one and five years who won’t go to bed, won’t stay in bed and won’t stay asleep, or wakes up too early, you are in good company.  According to a National Survey in the US, 70% of parents with children under five years have the same problems.  When children are older than one year, there is very little risk of suffocation, so sleeping with parents are easier. Here is some possible sleep arrangements:

  • Toddler sleeps in his own bed – parent soothes and gradually leaves in baby steps.
  • Toddler sleeps with parents in their bed.
  • Toddler sleeps with siblings in their bed.
  • Toddler sleeps on living room sofa, while the parents are still up, and then the parents move him when they go to bed.
  • Toddler sleeps on the floor on a mattress or airbed next to the parent’s bed.
  • Toddler starts the night in his own bed and may climb into parent’s bed when he needs to, probably in the middle of the night.
  • Toddler starts in parent’s bed and gets moved to her own bed when asleep and when parents want to go to bed.
  • Parents take turns sleeping with the toddler in her own bed every third night so one parent gets a solid night of REM sleep.

Sleep is important. Seventy percent of growth hormone is secreted during sleep.

It’s still one of those things that is totally under the control of the child. Parents can facilitate sleep, but can’t force it.

Some toddlers still sleep with and nurse with Mom during the night. By about age three and a half years, most toddlers are okay with sleeping in their own bed, and their night nursing has become negotiable. They are able to talk with Mom about when and where to nurse. Many Moms want to night wean their toddlers by two years or sooner. Often, holding, cuddles, and a sippy cup of water is enough to help toddlers stop night nursing and go back to sleep. Other Moms have said, “Num-nums have gone to sleep and will wake in the morning to feed you!” Some Moms found it helpful to leave their toddler with Daddy at night to sleep and cuddle with and not feed for a few nights.

If parents understand the reasons why toddlers and preschoolers don’t want to go to bed, they can address those needs. Separation anxiety is a huge issue. A recent Today’s Parent Survey of 3000 parents revealed that at least 10 percent of families co-sleep. Sleeping with a child for a few years doesn’t mean they will never sleep in their own beds any more than using diapers for a few years will prevent a child forever from using the toilet.

There are no studies that show any negative effects from co-sleeping for children aged one and up. Most children sleep alone, in their own beds, in their own rooms, by age 12. By then, they will insist on it!

Wherever a toddler sleeps, be sure to have a bedtime routine: a snack, bath, then pajamas, teeth brushing, and finally a story. Have a brief talk, prayer or snuggle time and kiss them good-night. Children tend to open up and want to talk just before bed. That’s why it’s great for Dad and Mom to alternate putting children to bed. It’s a time for intimate conversations that really builds relationships. It may help to stay with your child while they “let go” and drift off.

Leave them in their own room with a white noise machine, fan, book, or quiet toys in bed. If they get up, attend to their needs. Usually, it’s not a drink of water or scary monsters under the bed. It’s their need for more parent cuddle time and attention. If they don’t settle, bring them downstairs to cuddle and lay on the couch while you watch your adult show or carry on with your adult activities. Keep the focus off them and on to what you want to do. It’s your time. They will fall asleep but secure in the fact that their parents are there.

Although there are recommendations for babies under one, there is no co-sleeping safety concerns for children over one.  Where your child sleeps is a matter of your family preference, culture, and values and the decision is up to you.  No professional should tell you how or where your family sleeps.

Whatever works so no one is crying and everyone is sleeping safely is the right option for your family.

Leaving Baby for the First Time

Leaving Baby for the First Time

The moment is here. Your partner has been not-so-gently hinting that you need a date night out. You agree but are reluctant to leave your new baby. Your couple relationship is important to you and you really would like a break too, so you decide to go for it. How can you make the separation easier?

 

Tips for Mom

Have a trial run with your caregiver

Ask someone you are super comfortable with leaving your baby, such as another Mom, or a relative that you trust.

Phone home as much as you need to in order to feel secure.

Say a quick good-bye, hug and leave fast.

Leave a shirt or receiving blanket that smells like you.

Go to something you can focus on such as a movie or show. Dinner is too unstructured and your thoughts may turn to worry.

Post a list on the fridge of what helps calm babies’ crying, positions she likes, food and bath preferences, sleep routine and individual quirks.

Make sure your caregiver and you share the same philosophy. Ask questions such as “How long do you think baby should cry before you pick her up?” to gauge suitability.

Don’t do it again unless you feel ready.

Don’t worry if you only last half the time you planned. It’s natural to feel that way.

 

Tips for Partner

Recognize this is huge for her

Allow her to do what she needs to do in order to feel comfortable.  If she needs to cling to her phone, don’t tease her!

Acknowledge her feelings of guilt, worry and anxiety; she is being pulled two ways between wanting to go out and wanting to stay with baby.

Let her phone home as much as she needs to.

Let her talk about the baby as much as she wants to.

Let her go home if she is overwhelmed. This is still a very natural and healthy attachment at this stage. If her baby is going to university and she still can’t bear to go home, then it might be a problem! She will love you all the more for your understanding to her needs.

As the famous quote by Elizabeth Stone says, “Making the decision to have a child is momentous.  It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”  Leaving your “heart” for the first time is a huge step of many toward interdependence for you and your child. Do it whenever you feel it is right.

 

 

Letting Go of Tweens

 

Kaori’s eight year-old daughter, Rin, answered the door one day and found her little grade three friend asking her to go play at the park down the block. The little friend was alone. Kaori replied that they would love to go to the park and will meet her there in 15 minutes. The friend had a puzzled look on her face when she realized that not just Rin was coming, but the mom too. Kaori wondered whether she was too protective or she should let her daughter skip off to the park alone with her friend. How do we balance our parental need to protect and keep our children safe from harm, but trust our children to grow in independence and make decisions for themselves?

It seems that children are always ready for the next step of independence long before we are. They ask us to take the bus alone for the first time, or walk to the mall, or go the park alone with a friend. From the moment they are born, they move away from us (literally) in small baby steps, until they are 18 and move to a university on the other side of the country. We wonder, did we cover everything?  Did we teach them all they need to know about safety, health, and good home and money management? Parenting is one continual job of letting go and letting children learn. But when is the right time? Do we do it all at once or in baby steps?

Society is making it harder for parents to let go. Even if parents are comfortable allowing their child independence, because they know their child best, society casts judgement on them. News outlets, other parents, and strangers foist their child-rearing opinions on the rest of us, and call the child protection agencies or at the very least, make snarky comments on social media about our “bad parenting.” The world is statistically safer for children today, yet, our society is more paranoid than ever. There are not many children at the park today without a cellphone as their lifeline to parents, instead of being allowed the opportunity to problem-solve their issues from bullying to stranger danger, without a parent’s advice.

The problem is that children need us to let go. Privacy laws are putting a deadline on parenting. When our children reach the age of 18, the world expects them to handle all of their medical, educational, financial, and logistical aspects of their life, all by themselves. Parents are no longer consulted and are often considered the major force that institutions must shield children’s information from. Thus, children must be prepared for an adult life of personal assertiveness and advocacy, long before 18. So when does this happen?

Parentalauthority

Fig.1 Excerpted with Permission from Discipline Without Distress: 135 tools for raising caring, responsible children without time-out, spanking, punishment or bribery

If you look at the P.E.T. (Parent Effectiveness Training) model of control and influence, created by Dr. Thomas Gordon, you will see that by the age of 9, children are halfway to adulthood. Age 12 is the two-thirds mark. By age 12, children are beginning to grow their abstract thinking skills and that is the time parents should start grooming their children to think about consequences, and allow the child decision-making and independence, offering coaching and guiding if the child consents. Of course, in order to do this, parents need children to listen to their influence. Children will listen to parents during the teen years, if a solidly respectful relationship has been built. That means no punishment (not even “consequences” or withholding electronics), lots of active listening and many, many practices of parent-child problem-solving. Punishing children does not build parental influence. At age 12, the child is in the last one-third of parenting and it’s time to start treating them as the grown-ups they are becoming.

Will the children make mistakes during those last six years?  Yes!  However, mistakes during these years are great fodder for learning and 99% of those mistakes do not have lifelong consequences, unlike mistakes made in the adult years. Children still have parents close by to help problem-solve and be the supportive pillow for children to fall into after a mistake.

And when children go off to university across the country at 18, they will have the confidence, experience and skills to figure out for themselves the logistics of living a safe, healthy and rewarding life. They will be practiced in facing problems and figuring them out. Even though parents are not controlling their children’s lives, they will enjoy the huge influence they will have on their adult children. I love the times my sons’ emails, texts or phones to ask my advice. That is the power of influence!

The key is trust.  Kaori ‘s parents trusted her to be okay when she moved to North America from Japan at age 18. She wants to give her daughter the same gift of trust. Kaori still went to the park with her daughter, but considered that between age 8 and 12, she would let her go on her own. She knew her child best and would decide when that magic number would be.

 

The Last Day of Parenting (After 29 Busy Years)

Today, is the last day that I’m on active parenting duty.  It began on a sunny, hot, cloudless day on June 29, 1991 when my first son came into our lives. The other book-end, my baby, my youngest of 5 children, turns 18 tomorrow, the first day of his adulthood.  We often count the firsts in parenting – first smile, first step, first time they sleep through the night, but we often don’t celebrate the lasts – the last time we co-slept, the last time we cuddled up to read a bedtime story – the last time he held my hand while out walking – because we don’t know when they are. We have to cherish those moments as they come because they are so sweet and fleeting. Today, I celebrate a job, a passion, a career and a calling – parenthood – as well done. It was hands down the best experience of my life, and so worth the gray hair, empty bank account and wrecked furniture! I have 5 beautiful, caring adult children who I am so proud of and are my best friends. My heart is bursting with pride and happiness at the wonderful people you have become and your individual gifts and qualities. You will go forward and make this world a better place than it was before you came. Happy Birthday my dearest youngest child and welcome to adulthood! And happy Last Day of Parenting to me and my loving partner in this most wonderful adventure!

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Clever Comebacks for Bullying

Clever Comebacks for Bullying Behaviour

 

by Judy Arnall, BA, CCFE, DTM

As we are heading into back to school from Spring break season, children may encounter bullying situations. Often, children are at a loss of what words to use. Here is a quick guide of come-backs. Use them to write some more and you can practice with your child.

Think “self-talk”

“This kid has a real problem and I’m not going to let it be my problem.”
“I’m a good kid and I am not letting her win.”

Instead of being defensive, agree. It takes the wind out of the bully’s sails

“Yup! I’m the freckle queen!’
“Too many to count.”
“Yep, my glasses are geeky and they rock!”

Point out the obvious

“Why do you want to pick on a shrimp when that won’t prove anything about your strength?”
“I must be really important for you to give me this much attention!”
“Do you have anything better to do?”
“Guess it’s time to pick on me again. No one else smaller around?”
“Yep, if you can’t push yourself up, you want to pull me down, eh?”

Sometimes short and simple can deflate the emotional power of bully’s comments

“Brilliant”
“That’s creative.”
“You’re right.”
“Get a life”
“Whatever”

Try the direct approach

“That’s just mean.” And walk away
“That’s just lame.” And walk away
“Get a grip.” And walk away

Self-deprecating humour is a trick that stand-up comics (the victim) use against hecklers (the bully) and win over the audience members (the bystanders). It shows that you don’t take things seriously. This really deflates the bully’s power of control, because control has transferred to the victim.

“Big feet, big understanding!”

The bully says, “Are you ugly or just plain stupid?”
You can say:

• “Actually, both!”
• “Stupid is as stupid does”
• “Yep. So what?”
• “Yep, I’m so ugly that when I was born, they put tinted windows in my incubator!”

One of the best lessons they can learn this school year is how to say “no” to their peers, or even adults that don’t always have their best interests in mind. Here are some quick come-backs that parents can role-play with their kids in order to say “no” to actions they don’t want to do.

10 Ways kids can say ‘No!’ to peers wanting to bully

Ask questions – “What if such and such happens?”
Give it a name – “That’s bullying! No way.”
Refer to the parent – “Nope. My Mom won’t let me.”
Get an ally – “No, Jason and I are going to Switchbox instead.”
Suggest an alternative – “Why don’t we play Xbox at my house?”
State consequences – “I want a career in law enforcement and don’t need bullying on my record.”
Stall – “Hmmmmm…maybe later.”
Offer an excuse – “I have to go and meet someone.”
Say “No” another way – “I can’t.” “I don’t feel like it today.” No explanation needed.
Make a joke – “Yeah, wouldn’t that look great on YouTube!”
If all else fails – ignore, act busy, or just walk away.

More Video Help for Bullying:

Why Do Toddlers Hit? Is it Genes or Environment?

Why do Toddlers Hit?
Is it genes or environment?
by Judy Arnall, BA, CCFE, DTM
It’s natural for toddlers to hit, but where does this aggression come from?
Actually, it is in our genes. We evolved from humans who could fight and
defend their lives, territory and loved ones, and they passed on the ability to
survive through aggression, to the next generation. Even newborns feel anger
when they need something. In addition, in the later half of the first year, they
demonstrate what is called exploratory aggression – curiosity pushes them to
see what reaction hitting or pushing another animal or child will bring. By
toddlerhood, ages one to four years, aggression is at its peak, where one out of
every four interactions between a child and someone else is physical. This is
almost every hour!
Does nurture or nature affect the amount of aggression a child has? Let’s
pretend that a human is like a car. Aggression is like the acceleration a car can
do. We all feel aggression. Self-control is like the brakes. We all have braking
ability too, but in varying amounts. Some people have more acceleration and
some people have more braking power.
Aggression is a function of the brain. The limbic system is the emotional part of
the brain and if we have low serotonin in the limbic system, we have more
aggressive behaviors. The frontal lobes are shaped by inborn temperament, but
the environment (a parent that says, “No! We don’t hit people!”) coupled with
brain development is responsible for suppression of the physical urge of hitting,
pushing and biting.
By age five, children learn about indirect aggression, as the result of their
higher order thinking skills. They can be sneakily aggressive in order to ensure
they don’t get caught, or immediately hit back impulsively. This is a sign of
brain development as it takes higher order thinking skills to weigh out the
consequences in each act. By age five, children do choose how to express
anger.
Hitting relieves tension and may be the reason why parents spank when they
are angry. In a small way, it feels satisfying for a second. However, we also
realize that we are social groups and we can’t be aggressive toward each other
and still get along enough to live together. If we hit, we are group sanctioned;
by isolation, in the form of time-out when we are young, to social ostracism
during the school-age years, and finally, jail, as adults. Isolation is a big
punishment for social mammals whether humans or animals. Societal
disapproval helps children to suppress their acceleration. Young children are
ego-centric and don’t care what others think about them yet. Their impulses
rule their bodies and their brains. By school-age, children are being exposed to
the wider world and care about what people think, so social isolation has a
broader impact on their self-control. Pride, shame, and embarrassment are
effective social tools to keep mammals aggression in check.
As the brain grows, children learn to cope with emotions and develop more self
control. By school age, most children have stopped hitting their friends and
playmates, although the odd lapse against siblings is common until the teen
years. It’s healthy to feel feelings, and express them in better ways such as
words that don’t hurt anyone. The key is to keep repeating what you want them
to do until they begin to take it on themselves. The more children practice calm
down tools, the more they are stored in their memory and come to mind as
they internalize social and group rules. When children are exposed to all ages of
social groups, in extended families and all-age schools, they learn the rules of
controlling aggressive behaviour.
Play fighting does not encourage aggression. In fact, it is useful for
development. Children discover their own limits, and what other people consider
acceptable, and it helps teach self-control. It’s hard to watch as a parent,
because you know one child is going to come to you crying, but it definitely
teaches both children about limits for later.
What is the role of adults: Adults just need to do two things.
Do hold their hands and say “Stop. No. Can you see this hurts your sister?”
“Let’s do this (stomp our feet on the floor) to express our anger.” Children get
to see their effect on others and can choose a non-violent way to express their
feelings. Keep repeating this message after every aggressive event.
Don’t role model hitting, slapping, spanking or any other aggressive
behaviours. Children learn by modeling. Children who are hit, are more likely to
hit others by thinking that those who have power use physical aggression to
wield it.

 

Screen Time Research – Who to Believe?

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Many parents worry about screen time, especially after reading the latest study that involves children their children’s ages. However, how does one sort through the myths from the facts? It is becoming increasingly difficult.

Screen time addiction was not listed in the DSM-V (the main diagnosis manual for the medical community) because the health community can’t determine what amount of screen time or type of screen time constitutes addiction or harm. The evidence is not yet conclusive and until we have long term good meta-analysis evidence, no one can state how much is harmful. Opinions are all over the place because they are based on random studies, many of which are poorly done. What is a parent to do?  Until we have good evidence, moderation is the best practice.

What we do know, is that children in stable families, with low ACE scores (Adverse Childhood Experiences) are less likely to be susceptible to any the 10 addictions, including screen time, no matter how much screen time they have.  Families should aim for a balance of screen and real-time interaction with the priority on face-to-face relationships. For more information, this website is based on the research of 49 neuroscientists across North America.

The Brain Core Story Training

Here is a graphic I presented in one of my parenting groups recently. Addiction is at greater propensity when children experience toxic stress during childhood.  Toxic stress stems from the 10 ACES listed in orange. Research can’t provide good evidence yet which genes are activated by toxic stress, especially those children with addictions that run in the family. Screen time is deemed to be closest to the characteristics in a gambling addiction, but it still has unique qualities.

Best practices for parents?  Build close relationships with your children. Avoid toxic stress in the family.  Enjoy screen time in moderation.

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