I’ve had the honor of sitting down with parents and having real conversations about the joys and the struggles that accompany this incredible journey. Many have bared their souls, revealed fears and inadequacies, and admitted that they just don’t know what to do anymore. It is a privilege to have these intimate discussions with families, and I hold it in a very sacred place. Even though each case is different, I find myself asking the same questions and saying the same things in most of those conversations. Today I thought I would give you a little glimpse into that. And to those of you who have allowed me to help walk you through this journey: thank you. I am better because of it.
- Yes, your child can go to bed that early! As parents, we seem to get stuck on actual times. “Well, I can’t put her to bed that early! Plus, she will wake up early then too.” I will never forget the look on a dad’s face during a recent conversation we had about bedtime. Upon recommending a 6:30pm bedtime for their 2-year old, he looked at me incredulously and said “I always thought we had to wait until 7:00!” He was so relieved to know she could go to bed earlier, and he and his wife both knew their daughter needed more sleep. Remember, little ones don’t know what time it is. That is our job, and yes, they can go to bed early. Also, contrary to popular belief it won’t usually won’t result in an earlier wake up time. Research consistently shows that earlier bedtimes promote higher quality sleep, decrease night wakings, and result in a more appropriate wake up time (I’m looking at you 5:00am!).
- The opportunities for choice and independence will decrease power struggles and tantrums. Does your child meltdown regularly when being asked to do something? Do you consistently find yourself in a power struggle making empty threats and engaging in “Hail Mary” bargaining situations? Try putting some power back in your child’s hand. Allow for limited, age appropriate choice and provide opportunities for responsibility and independence. Young children are capable of so much more than we allow them to be. Chances are your child can choose between 2 outfits, put his/her clothes in the laundry basket, squeeze toothpaste onto the toothbrush, set the table, pour his/her own milk, spread butter onto toast, help take out the trash, feed the dog, wipe up basic spills, and more. These opportunities mean EVERYTHING to the little people in our lives. Give them a chance to do more for themselves, and they won’t fight you so much on the other stuff!
- Always evaluate food and sleep before tackling behavior issues. When a family asks me to do behavior work with them, I always begin here. Inadequate food and sleep are often the root of what masquerades as a behavior problem. Are meals and snacks substantial enough to support all the rapid brain growth that is happening during these early years? Are their bodies getting enough time at night to rest and recover from all that growth? Sometimes we think that picking our children up from school with a bag of Goldfish will be sufficient until dinner, but then we wonder why an hour later our child is acting like a crazy person. Perhaps an apple and peanut butter or a turkey and cheese roll-up would have given that little cherub more energy and sustenance to navigate the treacherous afternoon full of towers that fell, turn taking, and fatigue. Look here first before you ever begin to take on behavior.
- Routine is power. Routine creates external order and internal order. It gives children a sense of security and control in a world that, for them, is anything but that. My mom recently put my 22- month old W down for a nap, and although he is not the most verbal guy, he was really able to help my mom move through his naptime routine. He took control and showed her what to do. Imagine what that must have felt like for him! Additionally, routine allows for order and responsibility. It’s the difference between the 18-month olds I used to teach who knew to hang up their lunchbox and take off their shoes because it was a part of their routine and the first graders who had a hard time remembering to take their homework folder out of their backpacks every day. Routine at a young age results in responsibility at an older one. Get organized and be consistent. It works!
- Read, sing, talk, and play. A dear friend of mine who is a speech therapist talks often about “bathing” children in language. This is critical to development, and they need to hear it from us, not from a movie, an app, or a TV show. Children need to hear our own voice, and they need us to read to them often even if that means the same book every night in a row for 3 weeks. Do it anyway. They are organizing their world, and we should not get in the way of that. Provide language opportunities that are relevant. This means that books should focus on topics that are relevant to their little worlds i.e. the doctor’s office, the grocery store, school, animals, babies, families, the farm, the zoo, etc. Cartoon-based books have their place, but should not be a mainstay this early on in development when young children can’t differentiate between fact and fiction. Read more, and watch less. It’s so important especially at a young age.
Go forth and parent! You’ve got this!
Find the joy~
**Do you think it would be helpful to dive deeper into one of these areas and have a conversation about it with me? Send me a note today and let’s get started. You will be glad you did!