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Mental Preparations, Reminders and Happier Toddlers

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013 11:23 am | By Stephanie Woo
M playing with her farm animals

M playing with her farm animals

I like to know my schedule ahead of time so I can prepare myself physically and mentally for the day ahead. Children need the same thing. This applies to the schedule of the day or the schedule of the next five minutes. Have you ever tried to take your child away from an activity he’s doing because you want him to eat dinner or take a bath? Sometimes he’s fine; other times, it turns into a screaming tantrum.  

Yesterday, M was working with her farm animals. It was time for dinner, so I took the cow out of her hands without thinking and she started screaming. I should’ve known better!  So I gave the cow back to her and said, “Okay, you can play with it for a little longer and then we are going to eat dinner.” She repeats, “A little longer.” Two minutes later, I gave her a second reminder, “Okay, we are going to eat dinner in two more minutes. In two minutes, you can put away the farm animals or I will put it away for you. You can choose which one.” After two minutes go by, I said, “It’s time to put the farm animals away.” She didn’t respond, so I stuck out my hand (rather than grab it) and asked her, “Do you want to put it away yourself or do you want me to help you put it away?“ She said, “By myself.” And then she puts it away and joins everyone for dinner.

 When you give this level of preparation, and follow through consistently on your word, then your children know that they have some control over the situation (because you gave them choices) but Mom means what she says. On days they still resist, it will be a whiny resistance that lasts for a short period of time, as opposed to the high-pitched screaming you might have to endure for a long time if you force the change on them.  When children feel like they have REAL CHOICES, they are much more likely to work WITH you, rather than against you.

Happy New Year!

Bedtime and Toddler

Thursday, December 13th, 2012 11:51 am | By Stephanie Woo
Toddler and Bedtime

Toddler and Bedtime

For the past two months, it’s been really hard to put B and M (23 months) down at bedtime. They take turns crying when I try to leave their room after lights-out. Anyone else experiencing this? I’ve had to try A LOT of different things to keep them in their bed and me in mine night after night.

Here are things I’ve tried that I don’t like: 1. stay till they fall asleep (exhausting, habit-forming and my least favorite of options), 2. cry it out (second least favorite option which I resort to when I’m absolutely exasperated, but it has worked on occasion) 3. let them stay up and play outside of their room.

Well, I also started compiling a list of things that HAS worked for us. Things have gotten better in the last two weeks. I can usually leave the room 5 minutes after lights out and they will stay in their room and fall asleep by themselves till the next morning at 7am. I’m also looking for more ideas in case these run out of steam! Please post yours in the comment area.

  1. Involve both Mom and Dad with bedtime. I cannot count the number of nights I just cannot extricate myself from a child’s hug and the only thing that would keep them from a meltdown when I try to leave is to say, “Daddy’s gonna come in to say good-night to you. Do you want to see Daddy?” That usually results in a yes. And somehow, Daddy only needs a 5-minute appearance to put them to sleep. Maybe not all Dads can do it in that time, but I’m completely convinced (and use it with my husband all the time) that Dads are better at bedtime than Moms. He believes it now, too.
  2. Give your child a “Toddler Massage.” I came up with this after observing Brooke, who has recently been asking to be held A LOT. So this what you do: after you turn off the lights, hold your child against your belly tightly. Using your whole palm, rub your child’s back, legs, arms and feet firmly, gently and slowly. Hold her as close to you as you can. It’s like an infant massage, except it’s for your toddler. I do it first to one child, then to the other. When I’m massaging one child, I’ll say to the other, “I’m holding your sister now, Please don’t interrupt us.” Both Brooke and Mackenzie love this. Mackenzie will say to me in Chinese, “Mackenzie wants tightly.”  After 5-10 minutes of this intense intimacy and skin contact, they’ll crawl back to their little pillows and say good-night to me. This has been the most successful thing I’ve tried in recent weeks, especially during the week my husband was on a business trip.  Not only do babies need a lot of skin contact, toddlers (and adults) need it, too.
  3. Never ever change the bedtime routine. We eat dinner, take bath, drink milk and do storytime. Then it’s lights out somewhere between 815-830. No exceptions. Daytime schedule may change (though I make every effort to honor the 1pm nap schedule as well), but this bedtime routine never ever changes. If my husband and I need to go out, we ask our nanny to follow this schedule. Many families will make an exception here and there (holidays, birthdays, special events, weekends), but a toddler’s need for order and routine is so intense that expecting him to accommodate to your schedule will just mess with his ability to fall asleep at bedtime on his own.
  4. Talk them through the bedtime routine an hour before bedtime. When we’re bathing, I’ll give them a rundown of what’s going to happen: “After we bathe, we’re going to have milk, then I’m going to read you a story in bed, and then we’ll turn out the lights. And then Mommy is going to go out and you will fall sleep by yourself.” And then I repeat the rundown again 15 minutes before lights out. Everyone benefits from a little mental preparation.
  5. Giving them freedom within limits around sleeping. When they say, “I don’t want to sleep,” I say, “You don’t have to sleep. You have to stay in your room during bedtime, but you don’t have to sleep.” And I mean it when I say this to them. The floor beds they sleep in give them the freedom to move around till they feel tired enough to fall asleep.

I’ve read many blog postings that tell parents to cherish this time, that after they grow older, they won’t want you the way they do now. I can imagine that being true, but for my sanity and happiness NOW, I also need time to myself. And that happens after they go to bed. If you have a toddler right now, I’m sure you can relate. When I can have a good few hours to myself at night and then a good night’s sleep, we are all much happier when we see each other the next morning!

Connection Before Correction

Monday, December 3rd, 2012 10:24 am | By Stephanie Woo

 It was a 5 minute interaction that made this clear: Connection Before Correction.

We had just come home from our afternoon walk. Brooke takes off her jacket and throws it on the ground. I say, “Brooke, please put your jacket away.” She starts running off. I say it again in a louder and sterner voice. She doesn’t look back. I take the jacket to her, hold her arm and say, “Brooke, put it away.” She tries to pull away.

And then I remember that I had been away for the weekend and been coming home later than usual. So I get down on the floor and say, “Okay, can I hold you?” She looks at me and nods ‘yes.’ So I sit there and hold her. We don’t say a word, I just hold her and stroke her hair while she sucks on her thumb (she still does that). I would let her decide when she’s done. Three minutes go by. Then she looks up at me and I say, “Darling, can you put your jacket away?” She stands up, fumbles around looking for the hood and hangs her jacket on the hook, then runs off happily.

I’m home with my kids everyday, so overall, I feel connected to my children, but I don’t know how they feel. Then I figured it out. When they act out, they don’t feel connected. That’s when I know it’s time to give them more.