Toddler (and baby) Tantrums

The dreaded time between dinner and bedtime. I always say that babies and toddlers are free falling and surviving those last couple hours of the day. They have used most of their attention, impulse control, learning, patience, etc. throughout the day and are running out of gas.

Dinner time is usually always a struggle to get them to sit and eat. After dinner, they are usually whiny, cranky, bouncing off the walls, extremely loud, jump from one thing to another and slowly crumbling until bedtime. (If your child does not do this… please tell us your secrets!) Us, as parents, are running on fumes too. We are much more irritable, patience is running thin and trying to make it to bedtime as well. This constant push and pull of emotions between us and our little ones, creates earth shattering meltdowns.

Meltdown happens and we cross our fingers and hold our breathe that it only lasts a second (or two). BUUUUUUUUUUUT… IT ESCALATES. We go into panic mode and we either try to comfort, discipline or rationalize with our kiddos. However, it DOES NOT WORK! It actually makes it so much worse and the tantrum becomes more supersized. Then we take it personally and anxiety, and even anger, arises and we resort to punishing. We threaten to take away toys, food, activities, etc. and this creates even more hysterics on both ends. In the end everyone is losing in this battle and we don’t know how to stop this viscous cycle. Believe me… I have been there and still get caught in the trap many times with my 4 year old.

We need to change the way we are approaching and observing this entire situation. We know, that towards the end of the day, we (ourselves) are tired, cranky, irritable, hungry, need a shower, etc. and just don’t feel the best. For babies and toddlers; they feel the same, but they don’t have the communication skills and self regulation to talk themselves through the uncomfortable feelings and then to find out what they can to do help themselves feel better. That’s where us, as parents, come in as their support and leader.

Instead of tensing up, anxiety taking over and starting to panic… take a breath. Think about what exactly is happening and what the root of the issue is. Are the HANGRY, thirsty, overtired, overstimulated, too much screen time, loud noises, long and active day, skipped nap, etc. Once we identify where this huge release of emotion is coming from then we can work to guide them through it. We automatically start to try and reason and rationalize with them.

Ex: Parent: Would you like the blue cup or the green cup?

Child: The green cup. (Parent gives child the green cup)

Child: Immediately throws the cup and says, “I want the blue cup!!!!”

Parent: Utter confusion and tries to rationalize, “You said you wanted the green cup, I gave you the green cup and now you are crying for the blue cup. No, you said you wanted the green cup and that is what you are getting!”

Your kiddo then starts to hysterically cry, throws their body on the ground, hits, tries to go for the blue cup, etc. Us, the parents, then get mad and tell them that if they want to have a drink then they can use the green cup or no drink at all. We then go into telling them that this is not acceptable behavior, tell them to stop crying, to stop acting bad/naughty/bratty, tell them what not to do, raise our voice, etc. Because we are starting to feel uncomfortable, angry, sad; it escalates our child’s behavior. They become more hysterical and aggressive. THEY LITERALLY CANNOT HELP THEMSELVES.

WE NEED TO HELP THEM! THEY ARE TELLING US THAT THEY ARE NOT IN CONTROL AND NEED US TO HELP! We need to show them that just because they are having difficulty expressing and handling their feelings and behavior; it is not going to shake us. We are their safe place and free zone to experience these icky situations.

What Can You do to Help?

  • Take a step back and observe what is happening.
  • STAY CALM!
  • Look around you and is there a lot of chaos going on? TV is on, siblings running around, dog is barking, you are trying to cook dinner and your toddler is throwing an epic tantrum?
  • Brainstorm the root of the issue. I know, I know easier said than done while you are in the moment. Ex: Did they skip nap today? Did they ask you for a drink 10 minutes ago and we got side tracked and then their uncomfortable thirst took over? Did they just have a spat with their sibling? Did they have a long day at school/daycare? When is the last time they have eaten? Are they not feeling well? There are so many factors that it could be and that this one specific incident sent your little one over the edge.
  • Once you have, to the best of your ability, determined what the root of the problem is (they are not going to tell you what it is because they do not know themselves), you can then help to identify and work through the meltdown/tantrum.
  • DO NOT expect to be able to have a conversation back and forth at this time. Reasoning is not going to sink in and is going to make them even more upset.
  • Sportscast what is happening. Ex: “Ugh, sweetie, I hear that you are upset because of the cup. You did ask for a drink earlier and I got distracted making dinner. I know it can be very yucky when you are really thirsty.”
  • Get down to their level, talk in a very calm and even tone and take their lead. If they need a hug, hug them. If they need space, give them space in a safe place.
  • Once they have calmed down… move on with your night. Do not dwell on it. Do not punish. Do not pressure them to tell you exactly why they were having this behavior. They cannot communicate effectively on their own with these big emotions.
  • Discuss with them at a later time, during a low key activity, breakfast the next morning, etc. what we can do to better express our emotions next time this happens or having such an intense feeling.
  • Model the behavior you wish for them to emulate.

Remember your baby and toddler do not have strong Executive Functioning Skills. Executive Functioning Skills is the mental process that give us the ability to plan, focus, organize, multi-task, self regulation, memory, and self awareness. We cannot expect our little ones to possess these abilities when they are not fully developed yet. Transitions are hard for babies, toddlers and adults and we need to be prepared and open to the flood of different emotions that come along with it. Allow and give them permission to feel the sadness, anger, excitement, giggles, frustration, etc. We want to be their constant and security. This intense feelings comes and goes and once it goes… all is still OK in the world and we can move on.

We are in this together!

Patti

Founder of Sweet Baby Sleep Consultant

Quarantine and Sleep

I have been hearing from parents that this abrupt change in life and schedule, with the Quarantine, has completely derailed their baby or toddler’s sleep. Their little one’s, once predictable and consistent routine, ceases to exist and their sleep is dramatically suffering.

I receive a lot of concerns along the lines:

  1. How do I get back on track with sleep?
  2. Should I still keep the same routine?
  3. Can I allow them to sleep in?
  4. Bedtimes are getting later and later.
  5. Waking throughout the night for long periods of time.
  6. My baby/child is skipping naps.

All of these are very frustrating but also understandable given the quick adjustment to “normal” life. We have stopped school, play dates, daycare, sports, activities, etc. We are limiting our exposure to interaction with others and now are trying to adapt to the new way of life.

Babies and toddlers CRAVE AND NEED routine. By no means am I saying that they are required to be on a regimented schedule down to the minute. However, they do need consistency and healthy boundaries. During this Pandemic, we are currently experiencing, our kiddos feel and are experiencing the shift. They may not fully understand or be able to successfully communicate their feelings and emotions but giving them consistency and boundaries is what gives them back their comfort. They need to have a safe place to express their discomfort, big emotions and feeling unsettled. Even though, babies and toddlers appear to want to make their own decisions or “sleep when they are tired”… THEY DO NOT WANT TO BE THE LEADER. They are ever so growing and testing boundaries and power struggles are what helps them to grow and learn what is right and what is wrong.

Structure, consistency and predictability is what allows our babies and toddlers to be able to grow and feel different emotions and experiences in a more inclusive way. They can be “all in”. Just like we wouldn’t wait for our babies to tell us they are hungry or need their diaper changed; they shouldn’t be making the decision to when it is bedtime. We, as their parents or caregivers, know what is an age appropriate bedtime and we need to stay consistent with it.

I understand that not every day is going to be perfect and there are appointments and activities… such is life. BUUUUUUTTTT… keeping the majority of your day to be routine is very important for your baby and toddlers development. Getting proper sleep positively impacts their eating, playing, thinking, concentration, memory, etc. Sleep is important as food and water. We NEED it to feel good, to be healthy and to be at our best!

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Tips for transitioning through the Quarantine:

  1. Keep a normal wake up time! It doesn’t have to be at 6:00 am in the morning, like it may have been for daycare or school, but I would keep it around 7-8 am.
  2. Stay consistent with their daily eating schedule. Breakfast, lunch and dinner keep at pretty regular times. This will help their bodies to produce Melatonin at the appropriate times.
  3. GET ACTIVE! GET OUTSIDE AND PLAY! Take nature walks or hikes, find a creek and splash in the water, ride bikes or scooters, push your baby in a stroller, lay a blanket down outside and let your baby explore the grass and sunshine, scavenger hunts, plant flowers, etc.
  4. I know parents are concerned about their child’s learning and not being able to attend school. At this age, the best way of learning is through experience and nature. So, like previously stated above… get outside!!!!
  5. Limit screen time. I KNOW this is extremely hard!!!! I UNDERSTAND! However, set specific times of day for screen time. You will see a MAJOR change in your little one’s behavior. Their attitude, attention span and imagination really will start to flourish!
  6. NO SCREEN TIME before bed. The blue light from electronics tricks our brains into thinking it is time to be awake and stops producing Melatonin and starts producing Serotonin= second wind!
  7. Age appropriate bedtime!!!!! I recommend anywhere between 6:30-7:30 pm.
  8. If you are having trouble with an early bedtime with it staying light longer… BLACKOUT SHADES WITH BLACKOUT CURTAINS. Works like a charm!
  9. Earlier dinner, between 5:00-6:00 pm. Babies and toddlers get H.A.N.G.R.Y. at the end of the day and will end up snacking too much if dinner is too late. Dinner rolls around and they are running on fumes, their attention space ceases to exist and they filled up snacks and drinks.
  10. Get outside or have free play after dinner. Like mentioned above, your kiddos are running on fumes and their lack of focus and impulse control is dwindling faster and faster. Evening hours is not the best time for educational/academic lessons. Let you kiddos release their tension, pent up emotions and last sillies out before bedtime!
  11. Consistent bedtime and bedtime routine. I cannot stress enough how important a bedtime routine is!!!! It doesn’t have to be an hour long with 50 different steps. It should be around 20-30 minutes long (including bath time) with a progression leading up to bedtime. This will help your little one’s bodies wind down and relax to get ready for the transition into sleep.

Remember… life is every changing and evolving. These are not normal times and we need to give ourselves Grace and know we are doing the best we possibly can. Every day is not going to be perfect but everyday will be a blessing!

Stay Healthy and Stay Safe!

Always,

Patti

Toddler Bed… When is the Right Time?

When to transition to a toddler bed?

Here are a lot of the common reasons why parents switch to a toddler bed:

  • There is another sibling coming and they need the crib for the baby
  • Parents think that if they switch to a toddler bed their child will sleep better
  • Child hates the crib
  • Child hates feeling confined
  • Because your Mom, friend, babysitter, etc. told you it is time for a bed
  • Child is climbing out of the crib
  • Potty training
  • Child asked for a big kid bed

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I DO NOT RECOMMEND SWITCHING TO A TODDLER BED UNTIL 2.5 (earliest)- 3 YEARS OLD!!!!

Here are some of the reasons:

  • Impulse Control. Children do not start to possess impulse control until around 3 years of age.  If their brains are telling them to get up out of bed and into your room, they are going to do so.  If 30 seconds later, their brains are telling them to get out of their bed and into your room… guess what… they are going to do so again.  Why? No impulse control.
  • They do not understand imaginary boundaries.  The crib presents black and white, physical boundaries that a baby and toddler can easily understand.  When transitioning to a toddler bed too early the lack of boundaries can be extremely overwhelming and overstimulating to a child.   There needs to be clear environmental boundaries.
  • Safety!!! Parents often forget that when transitioning to a toddler bed, we need to make sure the room is 100% safe.  Furniture is secured to the wall, no lamps or decors they can pull down and break, no cords, curtains securely fastened, no chairs or furniture they can climb on, outlets, toys, etc.  When we transition our kiddos before the recommended age, because of lack of impulse control and understanding, their curiosity will get the best of them and start playing with items that are not safe.
  • Before the recommended age, they do not understand the natural consequences.  Being tired, getting hurt, waking everyone else up, etc.
  • Lots of room for inconsistency.  Incredibly confusing for a toddler.
  • Because of inconsistency and being overwhelmed can create negative feelings around sleep.
  • Because all of the above mentioned: they turn it into a game, extreme stalling and no we have created a new negative sleep association we were most likely trying to break in the first place.

Sleeping

Why Wait?

  • At 3 years of age, they can understand more and communicate much better.
  • They do start to develop impulse control.
  • Most have dropped their nap and sleep drive is much higher at night.
  • They are old enough to be involved in the process and in return making them more excited and invested in the transition.
  • Old enough to understand natural consequences.
  • Understand and more involved in positive reinforcement.

Transitions are difficult for all ages.  Let’s make this one a lot easier.

Always,

Patti

Will’s Story

“Before Patti, our nights were filled with anxiety.  Every night I knew when he would go to sleep, never knowing when I would finally get to relax, then wondering when he was going to wake up again”. 

Lindsay was worried about her 4.5 year old son, Will, who was struggling with sleeping at night.  Even as a baby his sleep was difficult to achieve.  Mom and Dad tried sleep training before but he would become so upset, he would often vomit.

Will needed to be read to sleep every night and then would wake up, consistently, between midnight and 2 am.  At times he would wake up in tears and crying and crawl into his parents’ bed or others he would be completely calm and say, “Hi Mom” and climb into bed.  Mom and Dad tried returning him to his room but he would become inconsolable and would wake himself up so much that it could take 1+ hours for him to fall back asleep.  Will even was suffering from occasional night terrors and they were extremely upsetting for Mom and Dad.

Mom felt lost and extremely exhausted.  She was trying so many different ways to encourage Will to stay in his bed and fall asleep on his own.  She was trying to not offer sugar after dinner, exercise, positive reinforcement, prizes and lastly Melatonin.  Melatonin seemed to work to help Will fall asleep faster at bedtime but wouldn’t help him stay asleep throughout the night.  If he did wake and be up for 1+ hours in the middle of the night, out of desperation, he would get another dose of Melatonin.  Mom was advised by professionals, “that if it was working, why stop”.

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Mom was at the end of her exhaustion and also had her baby daughter to tend to.  Dad’s hours at work vary and that was also contributing to Will becoming more unsettled.  They felt like they couldn’t travel or even get a babysitter because of not knowing how bedtime and the rest of the night would go.  Mom tried making his room comfortable, whatever made him feel safe and secure and also tried a weighted blanket.  Nothing seemed to help.

“I felt completely helpless.  We were using Melatonin everyday just to help and that only ensured us that he would fall asleep eventually, not stay asleep, or get a good nights’ rest.”

Finally, Mom contacted Patti.  They chatted about everything that was happening from his sleep environment, nutrition, school, etc.  Patti needed to make sure they were addressing every possible area that could be contributing to Will’s inability to fall asleep on his own.  She could feel that Mom was absolutely exhausted and defeated.  Dad was working 12-13 hour days and didn’t have the strength to stay awake at night.  Will was becoming more anxious with his broken sleep and was more and more afraid to be alone even in his own home.  After talking Mom and Patti decided that the Phone Consultation Package was best suited.  It was just enough support for Mom to feel comfortable with executing the plan but also Patti was there for any phone call, text or e-mail.

The process definitely wasn’t without a lot of patience and perseverance.  Patti’s plan instilled healthy and clear-cut boundaries for Will, so that he knew exactly what was coming and what was going to happen.  Introduced some foods into his diet that would start to help his body produce more Melatonin (naturally).  Included a lot of positive reinforcement to keep him motivated (which he very much liked) and this helped him to feel somewhat in control.  Lastly, Patti used light therapy to ensure his body had the very best opportunity to start producing maximum Melatonin every day before bedtime.

Mom said, “it was a crazy mix of emotions.  The exhaustion was unreal, but because I knew it was coming it seemed much more bearable.  Quite honestly, Patti’s encouragement and empathy really resonated with me and helped me to keep going.  I had let it go on for far too long and had to put in the hard work to help my son have healthy sleep habits.”

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Mom and Patti, together, decided that a more gradual approach would be best for Will.  They both didn’t want him getting overly upset, vomiting or waking his baby sister up.  The first night Will was awake for 4 hours in the middle of the night.  He was testing Mom to see if she was going to interact with him, feed him breakfast or take him back to her bed to sleep.  Second night was a little better and but had multiple wake ups and by the third night, it seemed to click that this was going to be the “new normal”.  He still had wake ups but he started accepting his new place to sleep.  After 10 days, Will started to consistently sleep through the night and he no longer takes any Melatonin supplement!

Mom knew she had a very strong-willed child and in the beginning a little confusing but he excelled and was so proud of his achievement every day!  Mom said the first thing that she noticed was “He grew up in one week! His emotions matured right away, he all of a sudden knew how to handle himself so much better.  He really had built a new confidence. He knows exactly what is going to happen every night and is very confident in himself and no longer afraid.”

Life After the Consult with Patti: “AMAZING!!! My husband and I quite honestly didn’t know what to do with ourselves!!! There is now time for me in the evening.  I knew I had a lot of anxiety at bedtime but I never really knew how bad it was until it was gone and it was much worse than I allowed myself to realize.  I sleep so much better now as well not worrying if/when he was going to wake up and what kind of nights sleep we were all going to get.” 

Lindsay would like to let all Moms and Parents know that. “I think as parents we all think we can figure it out without help or others think we are just doing something incredibly wrong, but they are both false.  I am still kicking myself to this day for not calling when we first started having trouble.  There’s so much more to it then an earlier bedtime or just returning them to bed.  As parents we fail everyday at all kinds of things, it’s completely normal.  There are some things you leave to a professional and for us this was most definitely one of those situations!”

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Thank you Lindsay and Will for sharing your incredible journey.  Lindsay your determination, strength and openness is truly inspiring and humbling.  Thank you for taking that step to such positive change in your entire family’s life and especially in Will’s.

Always,

Patti

Case of the Mondays

Here in the DiClemente house, we ALWAYS have the “case of the Mondays”.  It’s the day where mornings are like pulling teeth to get Anthony (and myself moving).  Anything from getting out of bed, eating breakfast, wearing something other than his pj’s to just starting the day.  It requires a lot of patience and deep breaths to make it until Dad comes home or bedtime (whichever comes first).  Believe me, I love my little guy.  He is so funny, happy and sweet 95% of the time.  But Mondays… are hard in our family.

I totally understand why it’s happening and do my best to re-instill boundaries and consistency to smooth out the rest of our week.  We have a very consistent routine throughout the week and he knows his boundaries and feels safe and secure within them.  Then the weekends come and Dad is home, we always have tons of family/friend activities and our routine is a bit more flexible then Mon-Fri.  I can always see by the end of the weekend he is always a little overstimulated and getting right back to our routine is just what he needs.  However, it is never easy and requires a lot of patience and consistency do to so.

Mondays are never without some kind of struggle.  It is the power struggle to see who has the control.  Him or Me? Over the weekend, he is with family or friends, who “spoil” him a bit more (which I am not complaining about) and he has a little more control over situations.  He might not always have to clean up after himself or eat the most well balanced meals.  He gets so many extra cuddles/snuggles and helping hands.  I am not saying this is horrible or wrong but it makes transitioning back to our normal boundaries a bit of a challenge.  Such is life…

The reason I am saying all of this is because this is how we should be looking at sleep for our little ones.  We know that our kids need healthy boundaries where they can feel safe to be happy, excited, sad, cry, angry, etc.  While creating these safe boundaries allows our babies/toddlers to explore all their different emotions and an opportunity to feel them and process them at their own pace.  We are supporting them as loving parents but giving them the necessary opportunity to not be afraid of their own feelings, emotions and skills.  The more we can experience an emotion, not be scared of it, and learn how to cope with it, the more we are able to grow.

A lot of parents/clients tell me that they don’t want their babies/toddlers to feel alone and that creating them to be fearful or scared.  And because of this fear (the fear we feel as parents), we aren’t giving them the chance to even feel what it is like to be alone.  Being alone is not a negative or bad thing (outside of neglect of course).  Being alone creates boredom.  Boredom creates creativity, imagination and problem solving.  If our children never become bored because we are constantly entertaining, stimulating them, solving every single problem and trying responding to every whine or cry, they will never learn how to play and learn by themselves.

It gives them a chance to decompress, process their emotions and feelings and be comfortable with working things out themselves.  Even as adults, when we are feeling angry, sad, overwhelmed, frustrated, creative, motivated, etc. we usually need to take a step back, assess the situation, be in our own space and process what is happening.  Once we have settled we can then better approach any situation.  It is the same with babies and toddlers.  If we are ALWAYS intervening and not allowing them to feel all of these awesome and different emotions they will not know what they are and how to deal with them later on in life.

As much as we want to intervene when they start walking because we don’t want them to get hurt, or leave them in diapers because of the craziness is too much or keep the bottle because they refuse the sippy cup, we know we must allow them space to learn on their own.  We create consistent boundaries with lots of positive reinforcement because we know that they need this change and to learn on their own for their growth and development.  There are bumps, bruises, crying and tantrums but we keep on with our loving support and healthy boundaries that we have created.  We have created a safe and secure place for them to express these emotions.  We may feel some parental guilt (and it never goes away) but we keep motivated because we know it is for the best.  It’s a positive skill they must learn and will only benefit them.

So why is sleep so different? Why are strong emotions and crying so much harder in regards to sleep? Why are we so hesitant and intimidated by allowing our children the space to learn how to fall asleep on their own?

For me and in my personal and professional experience, a lot has to do with being so sleep deprived ourselves.  Because we are suffering from chronic sleep deprivation we are afraid to try something new because we are afraid that it will take away the little sleep we already are getting. We are afraid of change ourselves. We then become fearful of any negative we are going to create by allowing our babies/toddlers the opportunity and space to figure out this awesome skill of falling asleep on their own.  They are so little and tiny, right?  But we have witnessed how incredibly strong, smart and capable our little ones are.  They are growing at such a rapid rate and are constantly changing.  Around 4 months of age, babies are 100% capable of learning independent sleep.  They possess the ability to do so.

Let’s not be scared of the unknown. It is ok to cry and feel mad about change.  Give permission to our babies and toddlers to feel these emotions while loving and supporting them.  Be witness to this incredible change.

Love,

Patti

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