How Much “Screen Time” Does Mommy Get?

I haven’t written in a little while and some of my awesomely supportive friends have been asking when they can expect more posts.  I have a huge list of topics for future posts and am super excited to get them on paper (or rather, computer screen) but I’m falling a little short on free time as our family embarks on two much-anticipated construction projects.  Alas, I cannot guarantee when my next post will be but I definitely plan on more, especially when school starts up again next fall.

In the meantime, I have a quick story for you related to this concept of managing your time and preserving as much of it for your little kiddos as possible.  A friend recently asked me how I can manage to look at Facebook so rarely and I responded that every minute I am on Facebook is a minute that I’m ignoring 1 to 4 children (depending on how many of the older 3 are at school at that time).  This friend has brought this quote up several times and shared it with other moms as a moment of insight where she realized how important it is to consciously balance her own daily routine with her desire to be present for her children.  Children certainly do not need to be, and should not be, attended to every minute or responded to immediately every time they request your attention or assistance.  But if I am asking a child to wait a minute for my response, I want there to be a good reason like I’m speaking on the phone with your aunt or I’m changing the baby’s diaper – not I’m getting caught up on Facebook.  My friends will forgive me for not having seen every picture they posted on Instagram this week but my children will remember how much attention I paid to them and their daily accomplishments forever.

 

Mr. Handy to the Rescue!

The key to interacting with preschoolers is keeping things light and fun.  I credit my munchkins’ preschool teacher with bestowing on us the powerful tool of Mr. Handy: Make a fist with your hand with the knuckle forward and use your thumb to control the mouth or keep your fingers spread and wiggle them like hair – either way your kids will get a kick out of Mr. Handy.  The beauty is that he can act as your special helper somewhere your kids need a bit more encouragement.

A few years back, I found that getting the kids ready in the morning had become a frustrating experience; I was calling people into the bathroom with poor response time, they weren’t excited about brushing their teeth, etc.  Mr. Handy to the rescue!  The kids and I got together and decided there were 5 things we really needed to accomplish every morning: get dressed, make our beds, brush hair, brush teeth, and put on sunscreen.  Five is the magic number so you have one finger for each activity; if your list has more than 5 items, you can merge tasks like brush hair & teeth.  The great thing about having Mr. Handy help out is that he does all the talking.  You can give him a fun voice and ask the kids, “Have you brushed your teeth yet?”and instead of Mom nagging them, it becomes fun!  I also love that you can count out the 5 To Do list items (starting with a closed fist and raising one finger at a time) to wrap-up the session and close with a high-5.

Try out Mr. Handy wherever you’re finding challenges in your daily routine: With good table manners, with homework, with remembering things to bring out the door on the way to school, etc.  P.S. – The other thing that we’ve found very helpful in the morning is to keep sunscreen and an extra toothbrush for each kid in the kitchen so we can keep the momentum going after breakfast and finish getting ready in the kitchen rather than dragging everyone back to the bathroom.

A Good Mom Friend is Priceless

Have you ever had a bad parenting day?  Scratch that: If you’re a parent, you’ve had a bad parenting day.  Whether it’s troublesome behavior from your kids, chaotic scheduling, conflicts with your own personal To Do list, illness, or what have you, some days are just rough.  Having a good support system in place from early in your parenting career is so important to maintaining a happy family.

Being a first time parent often means a huge change in your peer group.  Surely you’ll maintain friendships from before parenthood but at every stage of your baby’s life you’ll have the opportunity to meet a whole new group of people, from your prenatal classes to play groups to preschool to elementary and so forth.  You might find peers in your new exercise group, at your church, or even form a closer, reflective connection with those who raised you.

From the beginning, identify the one or two people who a) you completely admire their personality and their parenting style and b) you feel totally comfortable confiding in.  Keep that number handy for those bad parenting days.  We all need support from time to time.  A simple phone call or text with one of these people can turn a rough day into an motivational experience and recharge you for whatever parenthood throws at you next.

3, 2, Thank You!

How do you discipline your children? Certainly infants and very young children don’t need any discipline. Rather, the focus at these ages is on modeling good behavior and steering children away from danger. As your child approaches age 2, he starts to have more of a sense of independence and starts trying out new behaviors, some of which you may not want to continue. This is when the concept of behavioral consequences should be introduced: Each behavior you choose has a consequence.

My favorite strategy for disciplining young children involves providing choices. Your child’s verbal comprehension skills are well-developed already, so even if they do not yet have a lot of verbal expression (saying words), they can understand what you say and the choices you provide very well. Giving your child a choice helps them to feel empowered rather than feeling like their parents are dictators. Something as simple as, “Would you like to read this book or that book before your nap today?” helps your child develop their independence and gets them used to the concept of making choices.

Using choices as a discipline technique comes into play when your child says they do not want to do something that you expect them to do. For example, when you let them know it’s time to head upstairs for their nap and they in turn, let you know they don’t want to take a nap today. First, I would provide an explanation for why you are asking them to do the given behavior, in this case napping, such as, “Your body needs rest so you will have enough energy for our fun afternoon outing. Let’s head up to nap now.” Assuming your child seems ready for his nap and this resistance can be attributed to “testing the limits” of his independence, I would then provide the clear choice, “You can walk up the stairs to nap or mommy can carry you.” You’re still speaking to your child in a kind way but you are clearly communicating that you are in control and the nap will happen, while giving him a choice to make a good decision and walk up on his own.” I would then start counting, “3, 2, 1” and if they have not started walking up the stairs by 1, I would pick them up and give then a snuggle or fly them like a plane to keep the mood lighthearted before nap.

Some people count up to 10 but I think 3 counts is plenty of time for them to make a decision. Some people count up from 1 to 3 but I think it’s clearer to kids that something will happen after 1. They know there’s a number 4 after the number 3 but they’re not yet aware of negative numbers (and often not even aware of 0) so to them 1 indicates the end of the line. And here’s my favorite part about counting down from 3: When your child gets the hang of it and knows you’re serious about the alternative choice (being carried up to nap in this example), they’ll get those feet moving, usually after a teeny bit of dilly dallying, so you end up saying, “3, 2, thank you!” (never having to say 1) which rhymes so nicely and keeps the mood positive.

If you’re going to use this strategy, remember that it must be used consistently. That doesn’t mean use it universally every time your child is doing something you don’t like. Rather, use it only for behaviors for which there is a clear next step that must be followed: “Please climb in the car or mommy can help you in,” “Please hop out of bath or mommy can help you out,” “Please give that back to your sister or mommy can help you give it to her.” Using this approach consistently means when they have refused to do something you have asked them to do, you provide a choice, start counting down from 3, and if your child does not choose the favorable option, you consistently follow-up with the consequence. There’s no further discussion. Set a clear consequence, make sure they hear the consequence, start counting, and hopefully you’ll be saying “3, 2, Thank you!”

As you can see, in the early years this is a physical approach (in a very gentle way; please do not confuse this with physical punishment) in that you’re helping your child move their body. When used consistently, kids learn to make the good choice provided by you (because they know if you start counting, you’re serious about making the request happen). Over time, your child will learn to make good choices on his own and to respect your words so this becomes a simple, verbal approach to discipline (start early with your 1-2 year-old so you won’t be carrying your heavy 4 year-old around every time they refuse to follow your requests). Using techniques like this, by the time your munchkin starts kindergarten (that first milestone that I’m always working towards in my parenting) they’ll be cooperative and helpful both at home and in the classroom.

Solve Your Parenting Problems in 5 Steps

I’ve alluded to problem solving skills a few times in my earlier posts and today is the day we will talk about the steps you can take to actually solve your parenting problems.  A parenting problem can be anything from your child engaging in an undesirable behavior like hitting to you feeling dissatisfied with your own daily parenting routine.  These are basic steps that I used to teach my patients in therapy sessions.  My kindergartener even came home from school with a print-out of these steps.  I’m not comparing you to a psychotic person or a kindergartener, but in your frustrating parenting moments, perhaps you have felt a bit like that?  Have you ever caught yourself in a frustrating parenting moment saying something like, “Well, then you’re not going to get (insert child’s favorite treat or activity) today” without stopping to think about whether that was the best approach to solving the problem?  We all let our emotions get the best of us at times.  Having young children can be stressful and when we’re stressed we tend to overlook the problem solving process, but really taking the time to look more methodically and objectively at a situation can make it much easier to manage.  If you think about how you solve problems in your life when you’re in a more rational mindset, you will probably come up with these steps but most of us haven’t taken the time to step back and examine how we tackle life’s challenges.

We’ve been focussing on sleep lately, so I’m going to teach you the steps using an example of a bedtime problem I encountered with my daughter when she was about 3 1/2 years old.  Any number of acronyms can be used to help you remember the steps: STEP, SCALE, etc.  I’ll use SOLVE:

S: State the problem.  Without adding a lot of emotion to it, define the problem.

In my example, my daughter shared a room with her older brother and they had the same bedtime.  For at least half a year this had been a perfect set-up and they each fell asleep within minutes of tuck-in time.  Then she periodically started having trouble falling asleep and would talk, sing, etc. at bedtime.  There was no obvious pattern for her clearly not being ready for bed at her usual bedtime but it would happen a couple of times a week.  The more this went on, the more disruptive she would get, talking louder, preventing her brother from going to sleep, coming out of her room, etc.  We went from blissful bedtimes to quite a raucous and unpredictable routine.  S: My daughter does not fall asleep at her usual bedtime.

O: Options.  Think of every possible way you could solve this problem, even the ones that seem ridiculous; openly brainstorming just might lead to other great ideas or at least add a bit of humor to help deter any frustration you’re feeling.

  1. Change her bedtime
  2. Change her brother’s bedtime
  3. Have them sleep in different rooms
  4. Have mom or dad stay outside the room to intervene quickly when disruption occurs
  5. Have mom or dad stay in the room until she falls asleep
  6. Provide a reward for going to bed on time

L: List the pros and cons of each possible option for solving the problem.

  1. She might be more ready for bed at a later time but she might be overly tired if she still wakes up at the same time; also older brother would not like it if she got to stay up later; also her sleep duration seemed appropriate for her age
  2. Brother could be kept up later allowing sister to fall asleep with less distraction but he tends to wake up at the same time every day so that would leave him sleep-deprived; also that would eat into adult time in the evenings
  3. Baby brother was already in the picture by this point so we could move sister into her own room but then big brother might be woken up in the night by baby brother; also sister loved sharing a room with big brother and wasn’t ready to move to her own room yet
  4. Supervising from the hallway might help if she’s just testing boundaries and isn’t too inconvenient for mom/dad but isn’t a long-term solution
  5. Staying in the bedroom should help stop disruptive behavior but is a bigger adjustment to our normal routine where the kids fall asleep on their own after tuck-in and mom/dad leave the room
  6. She would likely respond to a reward but I tend not to like rewarding a behavior that had been mastered; rather, I tend to reward new behaviors the children are working on mastering then phase out the reward once the behavior is established.

V: (Choose the) Very best one.  Pick the option you think will work best for you and your child.

We chose what seemed like the simplest solution but one that might actually work and I started lingering in the hallway outside their door after tuck-in (option 4) so that I could pop my head in as soon as I heard her talking or climbing out of bed and remind her that it was bedtime and their bodies needed enough rest to be ready for a fun day tomorrow.

E: Evaluate the outcome.  Have you seen the type of progress you were hoping for?  If not, return to the previous step and try a different option, then evaluate the outcome.

Option 4 was clearly not the right approach for her.  Many nights she would go right to sleep or need 1 reminder but others she would be relentlessly energetic and clearly not ready for bed.  So we tried option 6.  Then option 5.  Then option 1; even with a later bedtime, she still had restless bedtimes on some nights.  Then option 2; we would put her to sleep first and that seemed to help a little, but she still had those nights where she would be up for a long time past bedtime so then her brother was kept up too late.  Then option 3; we would put him to sleep in our bed and move him into his after she fell asleep.  Trying out all of these options took a couple of months and by that time we were very ready for our easy bedtimes to return but out of options.  So, we went all the way back to the second problem-solving step: Options and came up with a new list of options to try.  This time I consulted with trusted mom friends and gained some great insight about how since having younger brother, our bedtime routine had changed a bit so we normalized that as much as we could.  But still, she had these occasional nights of wakefulness, until it hit me one day as we were driving around in the afternoon and she fell asleep, that perhaps the little catnaps she snuck in once or twice a week could be disrupting her nighttime sleep.  She had stopped napping regularly but if we happened to be out later in the afternoon, she would still fall asleep in the car.  The wakeful nights weren’t always on these nap days, but I thought perhaps the accumulated sleep from those naps was affecting her sleep schedule.  I started actively keeping her from falling asleep in the car and just like magic our easy bedtimes were back in action.  Although cutting out these car naps was the most helpful thing, we had noticed the benefit of staggered bedtimes; plus, by cutting out these occasional car naps she was more tired than usual at bedtime and benefitted from an earlier bedtime than her brother.  And that was the beginning of our 15-minute staggered bedtime between children.

This was a particularly difficult problem to solve which required several passes through the SOLVE steps, some good brainstorming sessions with other moms, and continued brainstorming that lead to the “Ah ha!” moment where I realized the car naps might be the culprit and added cutting out car naps to the “Options” list.  If you use the steps to guide you and have perseverance, even the toughest parenting problems can be solved.

These steps are great to teach your kids too!  They encounter problems daily, especially in their interactions with friends and siblings.  Teach your kids these steps to help them solve their own problems.  Instead of running to break-up every fight between the kids at our house, I’ll often holler, “Be a problem solver!” to help inspire them to work through their own problems using the same techniques I do.

When It’s Time for Co-Sleeping to End

Today I had the pleasure of helping a friend who would like to have her 5 and 8 year-old boys start sleeping in their own beds.  Presently the boys share a bed with mom and dad.  Co-sleeping offers all sorts of benefits and is very common in the younger years but there comes a time for all children when they need to learn to sleep separately from their parents.  This family has made a few attempts to transition the boys to their own room in the past but for the most part, the boys spend every night sleeping alongside their parents.  This gives me a great opportunity to introduce the psychology concept of implementing a Behavior Change Plan.  Even if co-sleeping isn’t an issue in your family, this is an incredibly useful tool for your parenting arsenal.

Step 1: Identify the Target Behavior

In this case, the behavior is co-sleeping.  With other behaviors, it is helpful to do some monitoring of the behavior and analyzing the situations in which the behavior occurs before moving on to the next step.  This behavior is pretty straight-forward: The boys sleep with mom and dad every night.

Step 2: Set a Goal.  Goals should be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-limited)

In this scenario, the goal is to have the 2 boys sleep all night in their own bedroom.  There will be no more sleeping in mom and dad’s room.  Co-sleeping is firmly entrenched in their daily routine so we decided a gradual transition would be more manageable and set a goal of 1 month for the transition.  A quick single-night transition is Realistic but perhaps not Attainable for this family so we modified the goal by giving them more time to make it SMART.

Step 3: Identify Potential Obstacles

This is a family-wide Behavior Change Plan so 4 people have to be fully on-board with the program developed.  Mom would be alright with co-sleeping continuing longer because although the boys are getting big for the family bed, she does get a good night’s sleep with them.  Dad is the major motivator for making the transition but mom realizes that the timing is reasonable.  The older son is fine with either option.  The younger son is less motivated to change.  So looking ahead, we can foresee that there may be difficult moments when the younger son is upset with the change and mom may be tempted to revert to the family bed.  The whole family should sit down and discuss the plan below before initiating change so everyone knows what to expect.  If the boys question the change, a simple statement like, “Mom and dad have decided it’s time for you two to start sleeping in your own beds” will suffice without making it a big discussion.  Mom will have to remind herself throughout the process that she has committed to this transition and that there will be benefits to having the boys in their own room (more independence for mom and dad and night, more intimacy between them as a couple, the boys gaining a sense of independence and perhaps even strengthening their bond, etc. ).  Dad will play an important role in supporting mom throughout this process.

Other practical barriers exist too.  There’s a dust mite allergy involved so mom had to do some prep work to get the boys’ beds in working order.  Also, the boys are used to a single bed so even though the twin beds are pushed together in their bedroom, mom is going to look for one of those foam connectors you can put between the mattresses to create the appearance of a single bed.  The boys are happy to cuddle together still so by supporting that behavior in the new bedroom, we ease the transition away from mom and dad’s bedroom.

Step 4: Develop A Plan

Week 1: Co-Sleeping in Mom & Dad’s Room.  We decided to schedule 1 more week of co-sleeping to make sure that mom didn’t feel rushed into the behavior change, to allow everyone another week to be mindful of this experience before it ends, and to get the bedroom set-up just right for the big transition.

Week 2: Co-Sleeping in the Boys’ Room.  Now we take dad out of the situation and have just mom fall asleep with the boys in their new bedroom and sleep with them all night.  This gives the boys a chance to get used to sleeping in their own room but with the comfort of mom they’re used to.  This week will begin on a Friday to be sure we minimize any sleep disruption on school nights.  Dad will miss mom for one week but when he gets her back, it will be just the 2 of them, finally.

Week 3: Co-Sleeping at the Start of the Night.  Again starting on a Friday, mom will fall asleep with the boys but when she wakes during the night, she will quietly move out of the bedroom and sleep in her own room.  Mom may be a little more tired this week so Dad should be ready with that support and encouragement.  Mom anticipates the boys will cuddle after she leaves and will be fine for the rest of the night.  If either boy gets up and comes to mom and dad’s room, mom will walk them back to their room and remind the boys that they have each other to cuddle and that mom will give them a big snuggle in the morning.  This is where mom really needs to commit to the plan, even if the younger boy is upset over the change.  She can remind him, “It’s time for you to sleep in your own bed and your brother is there to keep you company.”

Week 4: Snuggles with Mom at Bedtime.  Mom will snuggle with the boys in bed for a few minutes but before anyone falls asleep, she will say goodnight and quietly move out of the room and sleep in her own room.  Again, if at any point during the night the boys enter her room, they will be walked back to their room.

Step 5: Reward Progress.  If mom and dad stick by their decision that this transition is for the good of the family overall and that this is the right time to make the change, praise and daytime snuggles are all that’s necessary to get this plan to work.  Some people prefer to use more incentives to motivate change, anything from dessert to points that accumulate toward the purchase of a toy.  The utility of incentives depends a great deal on the specific child.  Anticipating the worst case scenario of the 5 year-old waking up mom in the middle of the night and crying that he wants to get back in her bed, mom can think about whether he would respond to additional incentives and if so, plan that out in advance.  Otherwise, she’ll just be ready with a loving but firm redirection back into his room and the promise of a big hug in the morning.

Step 6: Revisit & Revise.  Hopefully in one month, those boys will be happily sleeping in their own bedroom and mom and dad will be enjoying more time to themselves in the evening.  They’ll even be able to start planning date nights since the new sleeping arrangement will allow for a babysitter.  But it’s possible that some unforeseen obstacle will pop-up during the transition that will need to be addressed and that is no problem.  We’ll just rework the plan taking into consideration the changes and keep working toward that goal.

Looking down the road, there may be exceptions to the rule that we need to plan for.  For example, what if one of the boys is sick and asks mom to sleep with them.  Or what if they’re camping and all sleep together, then the boys expect that again when they get home?  My suggestion is to always try to stay as close to the goal behavior as possible.  So, if the child is sick, sleep in their room but try to keep away from inviting them back into your room.  If you go camping, when you get home just remind them, “At home we sleep in our own beds, but we’ll look forward to sleeping together again on our next camping trip.”

Can you think of a behavior you want to change in your own family?  Try out this Behavior Change Plan and become your own mommy psychologist.

Love, Balance, and Problem Solving

A little while back I asked you to think about your own parenting philosophy and to start keeping an eye out for parenting behavior you observe, both good and bad, to help develop a concept of what kind of parent you want to be.  Here’s my global view of parenting: There is no one perfect parenting style but rather doing what works best for you and your child.  This means a different approach for every family and within each family, a different approach for every child.  The approach that works for me and for my 4 munchkins merges several somewhat dichotomous parenting styles: I’m pro-baby carrying, pro-breastfeeding and start my kids later in preschool than most Americans yet I favor a structured household and use a cry-it-out approach to sleep training at 6 months.  Before getting into specifics, though, I think I can summarize my parenting style into 3 overarching principles.

First, I place great emphasis on how I interact with my children on a daily basis.  In their first few years of life, parents (especially stay-at-home parents) have a tremendous ability to shape their child’s development.  There are lots of hugs and kisses at our house and there is a great deal of attention to the words that I say.  Everything that you do and say to your children every day adds up over time and develops into their view of you and the world.  I want my children to know that they are unconditionally loved and to become warm and happy people.  As part of this, I always try to speak to them in a loving, kind, and supportive way and react to them in a calm and appropriate manner.  This may sound simple but it is certainly not easy and often requires an incredible amount of patience (especially since the household chaos level jumped up a notch after having our third child) but I think it’s critical to being a good parent.  Remember, this is a goal, not a constant reality.  We all get upset sometimes and overreact sometimes but having this image of amazing parenting in my mind always helps me to get back to that behavior as quickly as possible when I encounter obstacles.

Loving your children does not mean that you should cater to their every request and indulge their every desire.  Children need a tremendous amount of guidance in their early years and I provide clear and consistent expectations for my children’s behavior.  My influence is greatest in the first 5 years.  Once they start full-time school, there are so many other influences in their life and your daily interaction time is so greatly diminished, you have to hope that you have instilled a solid foundation of good behavior in your children.  While loving them unconditionally, each day, I work on molding them into the kind and respectful adults they one day will become.  Children are a work in progress; you have to pick and choose your battles, tackling just a few behaviors at a time.  So this second part of my parenting approach is about balance – balancing your child’s behavior today with the behavior you hope they’ll have when their 5 years old and later 18 years old.

The third part of my approach is using problem-solving skills to tackle all my parenting dilemmas because training children is not easy and we often find ourselves stumped by our children’s behavior.  Rather than getting frustrated and overwhelmed, I like to think of parenting as an exciting challenge and attempt to solve the problems we encounter together.  This is where a problem-solving approach to parenting comes in really handy; if your technique isn’t working, search for another and keep searching until you find one that works for both you and your child.  I’ll lay-out the problem-solving approach in my next post.  For now, the emphasis is on realizing that parents have a myriad of tools in their arsenal and with some perseverance and patience, you can help your children through any challenging phases.

 

Is Your Child’s Room Conducive With Sleep?

What does your child’s room look like?  How much furniture is in it, are there toys in it, are those toys hidden or easily accessible, how many stuffed animals are there on his/her bed?  This is part 2 of our Sleep Hygiene discussion, following up on the last Bedtime Routines post.  You’ve completed your bedtime routine and gone to tuck your munchkin in, but is their room a place where a young child could easily fall asleep?  Getting children to sleep well is very high on my list of parenting priorities so I design their whole room around sleep.  When my little ones move from a crib to a bed they’re basically just enlarging the nearly empty rectangular sleeping space.  When we just had 1 child, his bedroom consisted of a mattress on the floor (why have a bed frame that makes for a falling hazard in his room?), a blanket, a stuffed animal, and a dresser with just clothes in it.  That is literally all that was in his room.  So how did the transition from crib to bed go?  Seamlessly.

Young children don’t need mobiles, they don’t need elaborately decorated bedroom walls or countless glow-in-the-dark stickers on the ceiling; they just need a nice place to rest.  I once saw a well-known psychologist who specializes in couples and sexual relationships speak at a conference and he said, “Bedrooms are for sex and sleeping” so set them up to be conducive with those 2 actives.  For your kids, this translates to “Bedrooms are for sleeping”.  Now that we have 3 boys sharing a room, it looks a bit like a gypsy den with mattresses spread all over the floor but the only other furniture in their room is 1 nightstand to hold a lamp and an alarm clock.  They can jump around in their room during the day with less risk of hurting themselves on excess furniture.  And when bedtime comes, that room cries out for sleep.  If you have a smaller living space and need to store some of your child’s toys or other gear in their bedroom, you can adapt this principle by doing your best to keep toys tucked away in the closet, under the bed, in storage bins with lids – anything that makes it clear that once clean-up is done, the toys stay away until the morning.

As your child gets older, they’ll start to request having more of their own belongings in their room and be able to have more decorations on their walls.  At what age?  There is a huge discrepancy in when your child will be ready for a more ornate room; I’d say somewhere between 3 and 5.  You know your child better than anyone so you’ll get a feel for when they’ve got the bedtime routine down so well that they won’t even be tempted to touch that T-Rex at tuck-in time.  You allow things to enter the bedroom bit by bit over time to test the waters, gently guiding your munchkins along the path to independence.

Bedtime Routines

Yesterday a dear friend asked my advice on managing her tired 10 year-old who gets “tanky” – tired and cranky.  I gave her some quick on-the-spot advice and will elaborate more below, but I just have to take a second to enjoy this landmark event.  I’ve been saying for years and years whenever people ask me what I plan to do when my kids are all in school or ask what aspect of psychology I plan to return to (clinical, research, teaching, consulting), that one day I want to write a book on parenting and psychology and later parlay that into a little consulting career for parents of young children.  People often ask me parenting questions and I’ve enjoyed answering them individually and now that I’ve got this blog up and running, it’s the first step to sharing my tips with a larger audience.  Exciting stuff!

Back to the topic at hand: What to do with a tired child.  This topic is so large I’m going to initially divide it into 4 posts (Bedtime Routine, Bed Time, Sleep Hygiene, and Bedtime Sneakiness) with much more to come on sleep training after that.  As a quick preface to bedtime routines, I must highlight the fact that well-rested kids and well-rested parents are primed for success.  When either party gets tired, parent-child interactions suffer.  Sleep is incredibly important.

Now on to routines: I cannot stress enough the importance of routine in your child’s life.  Children thrive on consistency and predictability; it helps them to navigate through all the changes they are experiencing physically and the new learning experiences they encounter daily.  I will talk more about daily routines in future posts.  Today we’ll focus on bedtime which is arguably the most important part of those routines.  Bedtime routines are not just for kids; they’re an important for adults too and are part of our next psychology lesson: Sleep Hygiene.  This refers not just to how cleanly you are for bed but how your entire sleep routine and environment are set-up and whether they’re conducive with getting a good night’s sleep.  Bedtime routines are just the first aspect of sleep hygiene we’ll discuss.

I think of the bedtime routine as everything that happens after dinner.  After clearing plates and wiping up any crumbs that spilled off of their plates, my kids head straight to picking out their clothes for the next day then off to bath or shower.  Then it’s time for pajamas, hair brushing, dental floss and toothbrushing, then off to story time.  Usually Dad reads because he has not spent as much time with them during the day and I start tackling the dishes and making lunches for the next day so all that gets done before that last child goes to bed and we still have some time to ourselves in the evening.  Each child gets to pick at least one story before bed, more if I got dinner on the table early enough and if bath time goes smoothly.  The number of books is made clear at the start of story time to avoid any later negotiations and the child with the earliest bedtime gets to pick first.  After their story, that child says goodnight to their siblings and Dad and I walk them back for “final potty” and tuck-in (which is a quick event) while Dad gets the next child’s story started.  Then we repeat the process 3 more times before Mom & Dad go off-duty for the night.

It’s the same thing almost every night.  The kids are almost always asleep within minutes of being tucked-in.  I love hearing babysitters say, “The kids went to bed so easily, it was a breeze.”  And grandparents say they’re happy to watch the kids for date night because they’re so well-trained at bedtime.  Having a reliable bedtime routine benefits you and your children.  Yours can be totally different than mine as long as it’s consistent and involves getting them into “calm and quiet” mode to be primed for sleep.  Our routine has changed slightly over the years; for example, we used to read in their beds but after the 3rd child that got a little cramped so now we read in the living room.

Now of course there are going to be some times when the routine is modified.  For example, if we go swimming and shower earlier in the day we skip bath and go straight to pajamas.  Or if we go out to dinner and service is slow and we return home too late to fit in a bath without sacrificing bedtime, as long as they’re not horribly filthy we’ll skip bath.  I let them know the plan on the drive home from the restaurant and remind them as we walk in the door, then off they go to quickly get pajamas on to still have time for a story – unless we’re super late and that needs to be skipped too.  The beauty of a reliable bedtime routine is that the kids can go with the flow for an odd night here and there because they are comforted by the knowledge that the routine will be back the next day.

What Does Amazing Parenting Look Like?

Presumably every parent reading this wants to be the best parent they can possibly be to their children.  But what does that mean?  The answer will be different for each of you but it’s important that you take a minute, if you haven’t already done so, to visualize what you think an amazing parent looks like.  Having this prototype of good parenting helps you to evaluate your work (yes, parenting is a lot of work) and to help steer you back on course when you find that you’re straying.  Nobody can be the perfect parent all the time so we can only strive for our best as much of the time as we can manage.

How do you know what good parenting looks like?  This gets us to our first real psychology lesson: Social Learning Theory pioneered by Albert Bandura in the 1960’s.  Simply observing social interactions can lead to a tremendous amount of learning.  Applied to parenting, we look for the outcome parents experience based on how they choose to interact with their children.  For example, you observe a parent-child interaction in which a 1 1/2 year-old appears to be on the brink of a melt-down, desperately wanting the toy another child is holding and the mother repeatedly saying, “No, that’s not your toy.  Here’s your toy.”  The child continues to cry, the mother gets more and more stressed…you can see where this is going.  In contrast, you observe the same interaction but the mother in this case responds by saying, “Jimmy’s using that toy now but you’ll get a turn soon.  Oh, look over here!” as she adeptly repositions his body facing the other direction and with energy and excitement redirects him to see a bird/butterfly/flower/whatever she can think of to shift the child’s focus away from the offending toy.  The second mother tries to avoid just saying “no” to her child, realizes that young children are easily distracted, and uses high energy and positivity in her parenting.  Observant parents in the room may choose to later imitate, or “model” these behaviors with their own children.

Find your role model parents, whether it’s your own parents, another mom in a play group, or a character on television.  Think about what aspects of their behavior and dialogue with their children you value, and use them in your own parenting.  Pick and choose from different models and develop an image for what amazing parenting looks like to you.

Also pay attention to parents whose behavior you do not want to model, whether it’s body language, speech patterns, or parenting techniques gone awry.  I’ll talk more about discipline techniques and consequences in a future post, but just a quick example from years ago in my pre-baby days when my husband and I actually had time to play tennis together in the evenings after work…on a neighboring court I overheard a boy probably around age 11 repeatedly using profanity when he became discouraged about his tennis game.  There are many ways this situation could have been handled better but what I’ll never forget is hearing her say, “If you keep using that language, we’re going to have to go home” not once, not twice, but at least 8 times.  In the end, we actually ended up going home before they did.  Even though I had never yet had to set-up an if/then consequence for my own children, I clearly observed that this technique was not working and got my first chance to build my arsenal of parenting techniques to (and not to) model.