Most parents dream of a bedtime routine that is easy and calm and full of cozy pajamas, snuggles in bed and a child who falls asleep peacefully on cue. But reality quickly takes over when you are plodding through yet another challenging evening of your toddler fussing through bath, clenching his jaw during tooth brushing, jumping out of bed a million times and multiple excuses that keep you in his room long after the lights have gone off. Ah bedtime…it is undoubtedly one of the hardest parts of the day with little ones and that much more challenging when you add an infant who has drastically different needs often at the same time.
While we can’t give you more energy or patience, we do have one effective tool which may just make your routine run a bit more smoothly.
The Bedtime Routine Chart
Toddlers are visual learners first and foremost which means they really need to see, watch & observe before they can DO. When a child sees pictures of an activity or routine, she can better process the routine and imagine her role in it. Often when I am working with parents who may have a tough time during the bedtime routine when many “things” need to happen in order to get from point A to point B, I recommend making what we call a Social Story or Star Chart. Really it’s a picture sequence that shows the child what needs to happen in order for her to be ready for bed. After she completes each task, she earns a mark (stickers tend to do the trick!) and once she completes all her jobs for a few days in a row, she will be rewarded with an extra treat or privilege.
This type of strategy works and appeals to toddlers for the following reasons:
- Toddlers love having a “job” that earns them praise and acknowledgment.
- They are goal driven when they can see what needs to happen next…checking off lists, following directions, and accomplishing goals is especially motivating for little ones.
- They have a visual of their accomplishments once they earn their stickers.
- A visual representation of the routine makes it feel that much more predictable and “safe” so even when something is different (ie. mom isn’t home and grandma is putting child to bed) the chart keeps her focused and secure.
- Your child feels more in control during the routine because she is “choosing” to accomplish her task rather than being told to do so by mommy.
Making your own bedtime routine chart doesn’t have to be difficult.
- Search Google Images for pictures that match your routine (e.g “toddler brushing teeth”) then save the images and copy in to any sort of document program. (or use the link below to download ours!)
- Create a graph with the days of the week & the image. Label each activity clearly & simply.
- Consider laminating your chart so you can use it multiple times.
- Hang chart in the child’s room (the back of the bedroom door is a great spot) at her eye level.
- Walk her through the routine…ask her “What is happening here?” until she is clear about what each job means.
- Explain how she will earn her stickers and what she will earn when she completes a few days in a row
When you are ready to start your routine, take your child to the chart and say “Honey…it’s time to start getting ready for bed! What is your first job on the chart?” and then remind her that once she does it, she will earn a sticker. Stay encouraging and refer back to the chart… “Okay, you have on your pajamas and you have brushed your teeth. What’s next? Can you show mommy?”
You will also feel more confident and in control using this tool…it gives you something to refer to and direct your child to. Also, it feels good to praise our child for a job well done and that alone will help you stay more calm and collected.
So if you are struggling through bedtime and looking for a way to streamline your routine and make it a bit more easy on you and your toddler, put together a chart and turn this challenging time into something a bit more fun and focused. You can think about making a chart for your morning routine as well!
Follow this link to download your very own copy of the Bedtime Routine Chart: Routine Social Story
You’ve entered “The Whys.” It’s an inevitable stage of toddler-hood that all little ones will go through…or shall I say it’s an inevitable stage that all little ones will put their parents through. Some questions are easy: “Why do I have to wear shoes?” Some are hard: “Why does the moon not fall out of the sky?” Some questions are frightening: “How did the baby get inside her tummy?” Some questions are sensitive: “Why is that man asking for money?” Some whys get relentless and you feel as though you’ve fallen down a rabbit hole unable to climb out, which is when we usually resort to saying “Because I said so!”
While you may feel like your toddler is trying to torture you with her non-stop whys, her constant questioning is really a sign of burgeoning curiosity and interest in the world around her. At this age, she has a grip on cause and effect, but is starting to learn that there is more out there to explore and her thirst for information is beginning to take over.
It’s easy to shut our child’s curiosity off or squelch her enthusiasm for learning by simply ignoring her whys or replying with a simple “I said so” but I encourage all parents to reply to your child’s string of questions with your own string of answers…even if they seem inane.
Here’s how my conversation went with Sam yesterday…when I took the picture above.
S: “Mommy, can I knock on the neighbor’s door?”
M: “No honey, Teddy has been sick and I don’t want you to get his germs.”
S: “Why mommy?”
M: “Because if you get sick then you won’t feel good and you won’t be able to go to school tomorrow.” (And mommy NEEDS you to go to school!)
S: “Why Mommy?”
M: “Well, school doesn’t want sick children to come because then others will get your germs.”
M: “Because you share your classroom with your friends and they might get your germs and then get sick too.”
S: “Why momma?”
M: “Some friend’s bodies may not be able to fight off your germs.”
At this point a biology lesson and discussion about immunities was on the horizon, so I simply asked:
M: “Why do you think Sam?”
And he ran off to play.
After you’ve made a valiant attempt at answering your toddler’s questions, you can always try the following techniques:
- “Why do YOU think?” (Turning the tables allows your child to participate in the problem solving, which they love)
- “Let’s think about it together for a few minutes while you take a bath.” (Distraction typically lead to the end of the questioning.)
- “I’m actually not sure! Let’s find the answer together.” (Teamwork! Use Google to look things up, or a make a trip to investigate at the library and then let your child feel like an “expert” on the topic afterwards.)
- “Well wouldn’t it be funny if the sky was Green instead of Blue? (Humor can deflect questioning.)
- “I really don’t know honey!” (It’s great to admit that you don’t know everything…shows we are only human.)
Whatever your response, it’s always good to encourage your child with the following statements:
- That’s a really good question!
- I can tell your brain is working hard!
- Wow! You really want to know about this, don’t you?
- It’s frustrating for you when we can’t find the answer!
- I love seeing how curious and interested you are!
This sort of acknowledgment and support shows your child that you are proud of her for thinking so creatively and for being so curious and also sends the message that you are there to answer her questions and help her learn as she grows.
Children also ask The Whys as a way of holding on to your attention-they are smart like that! So if it feels as though you are constantly being barraged with The Whys, you may want to tune in to the message behind the questioning which is that your child is seeking more face-time. This is another excellent reason to follow through with answers–you will be giving her the focus and attention that she is sub-consciously asking for and the questioning will ease.
The bottom line is that ALL parents want their children to grow a love of learning and early encouragement to investigate, hypothesize and ask why is a way of nurturing their love of learning. So rather than thinking that your toddler is trying to fray your nerves, take her questioning as a sign that her intellect is growing and she views you as the ever-knowing, venerable source of knowledge. Quench her thirst for information and know that The Whys are a phase like so many other phases of development and will abate over time-but by then you will have laid a wonderful foundation of learning for your little one.
The last thing many parents feel like we can do during the rush of the morning routine or the slog of dinner-bath-bedtime is sit down to play with our child. And who can blame us? There are many, many things to accomplish in a short period of time during those transition heavy periods of the day…beds to be made, food to be prepared, children to bathe…we’re running late, we’re behind schedule-it’s simply not possible to stop, sit down and engage in play. Instead, we often end up barking orders from the kitchen, giving meaningless “warnings” that it’s time for bath in 2 mins, begging our child to “please, please, please come to the table” and it all typically falls on deaf ears. We get flustered. Our children feel frustrated, things begin to unravel.
Enter the art of joining.
A very effective way to ease transitions for ourselves and our toddler is to join him in his play for a few minutes in spite of how busy you are. Get dinner almost ready and then sit down for five minutes to connect with your child and join in what he is doing. Doing this accomplishes so many important things:
- You will express an interest in your child’s activity which sends the message “I care about what you are doing, I want to hear your ideas.”
- You show your child “I can make time for you even when I don’t feel like I have it.”
- You will have an opportunity to ask your child questions about his work which will improve his expressive language skills.
- You will have fun!
- You will be able to set a limit during your play to ease the transition: “Let’s finish one last puzzle and then we will head to dinner together!”
- You will be there to coach your child through the transition rather than showing up abruptly and demanding an end to his activity.
I used this very strategy in our house a few nights ago. The bathtub was running and I knew that it would be difficult to get my son to stop playing and head to the bath. I pulled out Perfection, a game that is pretty quick & fast to play and said “Sam! Come play with mommy! Let’s play five times.”
He immediately jumped at the offer of one-on-one attention. We played, we screeched when the pieces popped up, we laughed, we counted down our turns. After turn 4, I said “Okay, this is the last time and then we will race to bath!” After the pieces popped again, we jumped up and raced to the bathroom. Total playtime, 3 minutes.
Of course if you have more time to play–than do it! But I want to show that joining and engaging during these challenging times of the day is about quality time and not quantity. You won’t derail your routine by stopping to play with your child for a few minutes. In fact you may spend more time consoling a tantruming child if you try to force a transition a different way.
What you will gain by spending a few minutes engaging in your child’s play is a child who is more willing to comply with the request to finish, clean up and move on. He learns that he has got your attention and he wants to keep it–even if he protests initially to putting the game away, your presence through the last many minutes of play shows him that you are there to support and encourage him through the transition. By joining and then helping your toddler move on, you are also build coping skills so that over time each transition will become easier for all of you.
So the next time you feel like your toddler is having a hard time transitioning, press pause on what you are doing and join in his play for a few minutes…I guarantee your toddler will respond positively and be more willing to listen to your directives.
We have many more tips for helping your toddler through transitions. Got questions?…get in touch!
You’ve just spent a lovely family vacation together away from your normal schedule and routine but now it’s back to life and to reality. As vacation draws to a close, many parents begin to panic and worry over how their child will once again separate when it’s time to go back to school or for mom & dad to go back to work. Let’s face it, no matter how loved your babysitter is or how much your daughter enjoys school, she’d much rather be on perma-vacation with you!
Here are some tips for making the transition back to your regularly scheduled programming go a bit more smoothly:
1. Get home a few days in advance. If possible, try to plan your trip so that you return a few days before the separation occurs. That way you will all have time to adjust and get settled before the separation. It will also give you time to get back into your routine which will help your child feel more safe and secure before the separation. If you can’t get home early, or simply want to eek out as much vacation time as possible, try to at least get home mid-afternoon so that you can have a proper dinner-bath-bedtime routine and your child will be well rested before the separation the next morning.
2. Prepare your toddler for what’s to come. On your travel day home, you can begin to casually prep your child for the separation in the future. Start by talking about how nice it will be to get home, how he will get to sleep in his bed again and play with his toys. Go through the routine of a normal day to remind your child of what it is usually like when he is home. Then you can add “And on Monday, you will get to see your friends at school again!” or “And guess who is coming to see you tomorrow?-BABYSITTER!” Stay enthusiastic as you are talking it up and even share how happy you are–our children look to us to set the tone and often want to mimic or model our responses. If your child fusses at the mention of the separation, empathize by simply saying “I know…you don’t want vacation to end! But it will be nice to be home and see our friends again.” If your child says “NO BABYSITTER!” you can say “Oh I know she is SO excited to see you! You can tell her all about the sand castles we made!” Whatever your response, make sure it is empathetic and not dismissive–your child is allowed to express his feelings about the changes that are coming.
3. Plan ahead the night before: Try to get yourself as prepared as you can the night before to ensure your morning runs smoothly. Make lunches, pack bags, check your calendar, etc. If you are going back to work and need time to get ready, maybe consider waking up earlier than usual so you will have plenty of time with your child and won’t feel rushed and stressed to get out the door. If your nanny is coming, you may consider asking her to come earlier so that you can overlap for a while and get your child engaged with her rather than running out as soon as the nanny arrives. If your child is going back to school, try leaving early so that you won’t be in a rush or running late and will have plenty of time to say goodbye and get your child settled in the classroom. Anything that you can do to feel more organized and prepared will help you stay calm and allow you to stay focused on your child which will ease the transition.
4. Plan something fun for separation day. If your child will be left with the nanny, then you can begin planning something fun for her with your child the night before. Maybe you can make a “welcome back” sign for the nanny together, or write a story about something you did on vacation together for the nanny to read the next day with your child. This will give your child something to be excited about sharing with the babysitter and will set a nice tone for their reunion. You can also plan something special for them to do together like bake cupcakes, or go paint pottery. If your child is going to school, you can plan a fun after school treat or activity. Ask your sitter to take a picture of them doing their activity to share with you so that you will feel connected and can talk about it later when you return.
5. Don’t prolong the separation. When the time comes to say goodbye, give a big hug and kiss and then leave telling your child exactly when you will see him next “Goodbye sweetie! Mommy will pick you up after lunch at 1:15.” or “Mommy loves you and will see you tonight after bath!” Giving your child a definitive time to hold on to helps them feel reassured that they will see you again. Letting the separation process go on too long will make it worse and will convey to your child that you don’t think he is going to be okay. Let your nanny or your child’s teachers step in and feel confident knowing he is in good hands. If you’d like to soften the blow a bit, you can give the nanny/teacher a note to your child after you go “Dear Child, Mommy had SO MUCH FUN with you on vacation! I loved swimming in the ocean and flying kites with you. Have a great day! ” This will give the caregiver something to engage your child in and will help him to feel more connected to you while you are gone.
6. Be prepared for meltdowns. Your child has gone through a lot of changes with traveling and being out of routine. Even adults feel “off” for a few days when we get home after a vacation. Be prepared for some meltdowns and try to stay empathetic and supportive of your child. When you are reunited after the first day of separation, make a big fuss talking about her day and reiterating all the fun things she did with the nanny or at school. If she had a hard time, you can also revisit those moments. Just say “We’ve had a lot of changes and I think it’s hard for you that mommy had to be gone today. But you are okay now. Mommy is back and we are together now.” Or simply “Sometimes it’s hard when you want mommy and I’m not here.” This will help to build her coping skills and show her that she can get through the separation again. Stay patient, label emotions, reiterate that she is okay and be present with her. She will regain her confidence and begin separating more easily knowing she has your support.
We love the book “The Kissing Hand” to aid in separation.
The mother kisses the child on the hand and says that the child can feel her kiss when he is sad by placing his hand on his face. You can kiss your child’s hand and do the same thing!
Have any questions about separation? We’ve got many more tips and ideas to share…just get in touch! Email Me: email@example.com or phone: 617-501-8231
Tips for Siblings Sharing a Room
Developed in Partnership with Dream Team Baby
1. Divide to Conquer. Let’s face it, kids are playful. They’re supposed to be! Even if they are tired, being in the same space is an invitation to play and engage. Many families find it helpful to put up a partition or other device to physically separate their children during sleep times. Our favorite option? A cute floor to ceiling curtain on a ceiling track. Similar to what you may have had if you shared a room at the hospital, only, well, much cuter. Pottery Barn Teen sells a functional and affordable cable system. With a track system you won’t have to worry about anything falling over. And, during the daytime, a curtain can easily be pulled back to open up the room for some serious playtime!
2. Set the Mood. A dark, quiet room is the optimal sleep setting for most individuals, but it is especially important when siblings sleep together. Keep the lights low so that your children can’t see each other or be distracted by one another’s shadows or movement. We also strongly recommend using a white noise machine to muffle out the inevitable sleep sounds that all kids make.
3. Prepare in Advance. It’s never too early to prepare for bedtime. Take advantage of small windows of time in the late afternoon to lay out pajamas, collect lovies, refill humidifiers, fold back sheets, turn on nightlights and draw shades. It gets hard to find the time to do all this once the evening routine begins, so the earlier you get prepared, the more organized you will feel.
4. Distract, Distract! If you need to occupy your older child while you feed and put down your baby, consider putting together a “busy box” of toys for him to play with. You can fill it with dollar store finds, birthday party and happy meal favors. You know, the little trinkets that always end up at the bottom of your purse. You’ll be surprised at how long this stuff can keep your child entertained!
5. Find One-on-One Time. If you put your baby down to sleep before your older child, you’ll want their room to stay dark and quiet. Start a new tradition with your big kid of reading stories in your bed, or consider doing something different and fun like “camping” in the living room where you read stories in sleeping bags. Not only will your older child love the novelty of it, but you will also get to spend much-needed quality time together.
6. Make it Fun! Getting your older child to stay quiet when you take her to bed can be challenging. So, make it fun. She may be enticed into whispering and tippy-toeing by being able to use something fun like a flashlight or a low-level light companion (A Light in the Night™ buddy) when she climbs into bed.
7. Expect the Inevitable. Be prepared for, and accept the fact that your kids WILL wake each other up every so often. Eventually they will learn to sleep through each other’s noise, but it always helps to have a “back up” plan for the nights when they end up keeping each other awake. Consider setting up a pack n’ play in your room or another part of your apartment where you can move the baby for a night if necessary.
8. Separate for Sleep Teaching. You shouldn’t expect your baby to sleep through the night until around four months. If, after that time, you want to teach your infant to sleep through the night, we recommend moving your younger child (and their crib or portable crib) to your room while they learn. Make sure you explain to your older child what is happening and thank him for being cooperative. Perhaps even give him a job, like picking out a sleep buddy (e.g., lovey) for his sister to have. An even better option is to arrange for your older child to spend a fun weekend at grandma and grandpa’s house while you do sleep teaching at home.
Break Out the Baby Equipment to Aid in Sibling Preparation
Often second time parents are too busy, too tired or too worried about their toddler’s adjustment to think about getting the house prepared for the newest little one’s arrival. However, setting up the old baby equipment (or purchasing new items) and getting everything ready approximately a month before your due date is an excellent way to help prepare your toddler to become a big sibling.
Here are some reasons why you should go ahead and dust off that bassinet and bouncy seat a little bit early:
*Children are innately curious about new toys and contraptions so if you wait to introduce the swing until your newborn is IN it, you will have to fight to keep your toddler away. Bringing equipment into the home before baby’s arrival will give your toddler time to satisfy his natural curiosity about what everything is and how it works without posing a safety risk to your baby. You will also feel significantly less stressed when a baby doll is catapulted out of the bouncy seat, not the real infant. Giving your child a chance to investigate each item on his own will also help the novelty and appeal wear off before you bring baby home.
*Letting your child play with the baby equipment gives you an excellent opportunity to teach about the “dos” and “don’ts” of each item. Use a baby doll in the swing or bouncy seat and model how you bounce the baby softly, or push the swing gently. Demonstrate how the baby lays on the play mat and show your toddler how he can lay nearby–but not on top of—the baby. Your toddler will be more receptive to learning what is and isn’t okay before the baby’s arrival when he has 100% of your attention and you will thank yourself later for taking the time to teach him these skills before you are sleep deprived and inpatient.
*Most little kids love to “help” around the house so getting the baby equipment set up gives you an opportune time to give your child a special job. Ask her to help you choose a spot for the play mat, or give her a sponge and let her help you wipe down the carseat. Including your toddler in the preparation will help her feel important, included and more connected to the baby.
*Having a new baby in the house is enough of a change, so bringing home or setting up all the extra stuff at the same time can feel that much more overwhelming. Avoid dramatically changing the landscape of the living room with new toys and contraptions the same day that the baby comes home by doing it ahead of time. It will make for a smoother transition and adjustment in those early weeks.
And finally, a bonus to getting the equipment out a little early is that YOU will feel more prepared by having everything set up, cleaned and organized. That goes a long way for your own emotional and mental health, which is so important especially in the final weeks of your pregnancy.
- Most experts recommend that you not move your child until they are at least three years old. That is not to say that younger kids can’t sleep in a big kid bed, but that is usually an exception rather than a norm.
- Moving into a bed is about impulse control and cognitively, impulse control is more developed by three years of age.
- We recommend starting on a Friday or during vacation so that your partner can support you and so that there is no pressure to get out of the house the next morning (assume you and your child may not sleep well!)
- DO NOT assume a child is ready for a big kid bed because he is climbing out of the crib—that is not a sign of readiness.
- Begin talking about sleeping in a big bed in the weeks leading up to the change. Point out beds in books, talk about friends who sleep in a big bed, put dolls or animals to sleep in a big bed during play.
- Consider letting your child pick out her bedding and be a part of setting up the room.
- If you are NOT converting your crib to a toddler bed, try moving the new bed in to the room with the crib. That way your toddler can begin getting used to the bed, you can read stories in it and talk about moving when she is ready.
- Pick a date on the calendar, mark it with a sticker and begin to count down to the date about two weeks in advance.
- You can begin to talk about expectations before making the move: “Remember, you have to stay in your bed, there is no getting out. You may call mommy if you need something.” Or “When you are in your bed, you have to lay quietly and go night night.” It’s good to begin chatting about this before the pressure is on.
- Pick up useful tools for success (see below.)
- Purchase safety rails. We like the extra tall ones from KidCo.
- We recommend purchasing a stay-in-bed clock such as the Good Nite Light so that your child will have a visual for when it’s time to get out of bed.
- We also recommend getting a digital clock that lights up so that your child can begin associating wake up time with the time on the clock. “Look! The sun on your clock is shining (on the Good Nite Light) and your clock says 7-0-0. Now it’s time to wake up!” This will be another cue to help your child know when it is/isn’t time to get out of bed. It can be used the same way at night.
- Use a small step stool to climb in to bed and then remove it—tell your child he may not get down until the stool is back.
- Consider making a reward sticker chart for staying in bed.
THE BIG DAY!
Once the bed and room are all set up, you are ready to go! Begin your bedtime routine early so that you have extra time to spend taking pictures, making a big deal, celebrating and then settling down.
- Expect that it will take your child longer than usual to fall asleep. It’s exciting for him-his adrenaline will be pumping.
- Try not to plant the seed by telling him “Don’t get out!” Just stay focused on what he should do. “Lay down, stay in bed, snuggle up with your pillows.”
- Acknowledge that this is exciting—help your child label how he might be feeling: “I can tell you are excited about your new bed!” or “I can see your body is all wiggly with excitement….but it’s time to settle down now.”
- It may help to rub his back, or sit in the room for a few minutes longer until you can tell he is calming down.
- Try to AVOID starting any new enabling habits—in other words, don’t lay down in bed with your child or on the floor next to him. You don’t want to get stuck having to do that every night, so avoid it from the outset!
- If your child asks you to stay, you may oblige, but set a time limit: “Mommy can stay for two more minutes…but after that, I will be right outside in the living room” and then follow through with leaving.
- It’s normal that your child may feel anxious or even scared moving to a big kid bed—this is a big change for them! Try not to brush it off.
- Avoid statements like “Don’t be scared! You’re a big boy now.” Instead say something like: “It’s okay to feel nervous! This is a big change. But you are okay, and mommy will be right outside.” This shows your child that you empathize with the feelings, while providing comfort and reassurance.
IF YOUR CHILD GETS OUT OF BED:
- Remember, this is about impulse control first and foremost, so when your child gets out of bed, it’s important not to take it personally. Most children are not trying to be bad or disobedient! They are simply acting on impulse and responding to newfound freedoms.
- Give the child a gentle, yet firm reminder that he needs to stay in bed while putting him back.
- Direct his attention to the stay-in-bed clock and the fact that it is dark outside to reaffirm it is time for bed.
- Acknowledge feelings: “It’s hard to stay in bed because you are excited, but it’s time to lay down and go to sleep.” Connecting the way that her body is feeling and giving it words helps her to understand what is happening—this will help her master her own impulses more quickly.
- The more your child gets out of bed, the less you react. Simply take the child back to bed without saying anything. Your child will like the extra attention you are giving her, so the more you minimize your reaction, the better.
- Staying in bed can become a battle of wills, but with consistency and persistence, your child will learn that he needs to stay in bed.
- You MUST stay calm and collected! Remember, your child feeds off your energy, so if you get annoyed or frustrated your child will feel defensive and less likely to comply.
- If you feel like you simply cannot take your child in again or if you are no longer able to stay patient, have your partner take over, or work together throughout the process so that the same message is coming from both of you.
- If you still have the crib in the room, you can always use that to help motivate your child to stay in bed: “I see you are having a hard time staying in your new bed. Maybe you need to go back into your crib?….” Or “It seems to me like you aren’t ready to sleep in a big kid bed…if you get out one more time, you’re going back in your crib.” And then follow through. Tell your child “We will try again tomorrow…” but I encourage you not to resort to this right away. Give your child a chance to learn first. (If you converted your crib to the bed, you can set up a pack n play in the room and use it the same way.)
- Set up a sticker or reward chart. By three years old, this sort of positive reward system can be effective. Earn three stickers in a row for staying in bed and then get a small gift.
- Lots of celebration and talking about it the next day is very important! Be sure to revisit what your child did right and what he needs to improve upon. “You did a great job staying in bed! Tonight, show me you can do it again, but please no yelling this time!” Talking about it throughout the day when the pressure is off helps reiterate your expectations.
BE PREPARED FOR EXCUSES!
- Your child is smart and will probably use every excuse in the book to delay bedtime or going to bed. She wants a drink, to use the potty, one more story, etc.
- Pre-emptively take care of all these things before shutting off the lights. Tell your child “This is the last drink of water…no more.” Set limits and then do not cave when she asks again. The quicker you shut down the manipulation, the faster your child will learn that her excuses won’t work.
- Your child may stay in bed, but continuously call for you. How do you know when to go in?
- Some children just need reassurance that a parent is there and can hear him, so it’s important to respond the first time. You can say: “I am here honey, I hear you. It’s time for you to settle down now and be quiet.”
- If she calls again: “Honey, you are okay. It’s time for you to settle down. I will check on you in a bit, but you need to stop shouting.” You can also remind her: “No more water, (or whatever the excuse is…)
- Try to avoid going in after that, but if you must, try to say very little, if anything at all. A simple “shhhh” and “go night, night.” is all you should say. Try not to answer questions or get involved in a dialogue.
Moving to a big kid bed can definitely impact your child’s naptime. If a child is moving towards dropping a nap anyway, the big kid bed may move that process along. If a child still really needs a nap, you may see a few days of nap difficulties before the child adjusts and learns to nap in her new bed.
- Whatever the case, be consistent. Put her in her bed, express the same expectations about what she is supposed to do and then leave her in there for the duration of her normal naptime (even if she doesn’t sleep.)
- You can set the Good Night Lite for nap time as well
- Return the child to her bed if she gets out, just like you would at bedtime
- If your child doesn’t sleep and is moving towards dropping nap completely, we still encourage having “quiet time” in bed. He can look at books or the iPad or something like that, but learning to stay quiet in bed to decompress is an important (and necessary) skill for young children.
Remember, just like potty training or sleep teaching, helping your child learn to stay in bed and fall asleep is a process and will take time. The KEY is patience and consistency. Guide your child in the right direction and he will follow!
GENERAL INFO ABOUT TIME OUTS:
We don’t recommend trying to start time outs until at least two years old (until this, discipline strategies should focus on distraction and redirection.) The exception to this rule is if you are using this for a younger sibling. Younger kids are generally already aware of time outs if you have used them with their older sib. They have heard you use the terminology, know where the TO spot is located and have seen their brother/sister model the technique. Given this, you could potentially start to try TOs before two.
Time outs are most affective for negative behaviors that are driven by impulse (hitting, biting, kicking, etc.) and come from frustration, an inability to communicate, or a need for attention. The point of a TO is to remove the child from the frustrating situation or person and literally give him a break from that stimulus–interrupting his impulse to react. In fact, I often like to recommend that parents call a TO “taking a break” instead…that really is what it boils down to and thinking of it as “taking a break” often sits better with parents who may not feel comfortable with TOs.
PREPARING FOR TIME OUTS:
*You and your partner need to decide what sorts of behaviors warrant a time out–make sure you are both on the same page and communicate the behaviors with your childcare provider as well. We generally recommend TOs for physical behaviors (hitting, biting, kicking, etc.) that can hurt someone and that are driven my impulse at this age. TOs are not appropriate for “annoying” behaviors such as throwing food off the tray, making messes, or getting into things that you don’t want your child to get into. Instead, you need to focus on teaching your child that those behaviors are not okay and have consequences (for example, take food off the tray and tell your child that mealtime is over because he is throwing his food.)
*You need to designate a TO spot in your home. It should be somewhere that is very neutral, not near any toys or other entertainment and in a place where you can see your child. Our favorite spot is right at the front door. There is typically not much in a foyer or entryway that a child would be entertained by, so it’s a good neutral place that is perfect for a time out.
Please note, your time out spot should NOT be:
- In your child’s crib, pack n’ play or bed….really not in their room at all.
- In the high chair or stroller
- On a stool or chair
- On the stairs
You defeat the point of a time out (which is to take a break and teach impulse control) if you strap a child in or confine him. You also don’t want to give something a negative purpose or teach a negative connotation by using it as a punishment. A highchair is for eating, not for a punishment. A bed should be a safe and comforting place, not a place in which the child is banished. It is equally important that your spot be safe! Trying to sit a child on a stool, chair or staircase could be dangerous, especially if your child is tantruming or if you need to repeatedly place your child back on their spot. You don’t want to battle with a child AND a chair that keeps falling over. Stick to the floor!
You can designate your TO spot even more effectively by using a Time Out Mat or a carpet square or something like that. Using a mat or something similar also allows you to take it with you when you travel. Going to Grammie’s? Bring the mat or spot with you to keep behavior in check and keep your technique consistent.
*We recommend starting time outs on a weekend or on a day when your partner is home so that the two of you can work together and support each other. Along those lines, this MUST be a unified effort! Both parents need to be on board with this technique so that your child will know you are both serious and willing to see this process through. Additionally, you both need to be ready, willing and able to “tackle” this technique as soon as you are out of the gate. There is no going back, no stopping halfway through, no giving up after 15 or 20 minutes!! You need to be mentally, physically and emotionally tough and ready to “fight the battle” so to speak. So if you don’t have it in you yet, or don’t feel ready to commit to the teaching process, don’t start it. It will only confuse your child and prolong the teaching if you waffle back and forth.
***REMEMBER: You have to treat time outs like sleep training or potty training…it is a PROCESS…one where consistency, patience, and persistence will pay off.***
*Finally, we don’t recommend starting TOs (or any other new discipline strategy) right after a new baby has joined the family. Acting out behavior is likely to occur after major life changes, but jumping to start a new discipline strategy can lead your child to make negative associations with the baby: “A new baby comes, now I get punished and that baby is the reason.” If you are expecting #2, you may want to consider starting TOs before the birth! Otherwise, wait until you are at least three months post partum.
READY, SET, GO!
Once you are prepared and ready to implement time outs, follow these steps:
1. When your child exhibits a negative behavior, you go to him and simply say: “Max, we DO NOT hit. You hit because you are frustrated, but you may not hit. You may ask for help, or ask for a turn. This is a warning: If you CHOOSE to hit again, you will have to take a break and sit in a time out. (Pause) Max, what will happen if you choose to hit again?”
- Use a stern and authoritative voice to show you are serious. Use the child’s name. Connect with your child by getting directly in his space-ask him to look at you so that you feel confident he is aware you are there and is hearing you.
- Identify the emotion that is driving the behavior and label it for your child so that he will clue in to his feelings.
- Reiterate what isn’t okay, but provide the appropriate alternative behavior.
- Give a warning so that the child has a chance to correct his behavior before having to go into a time out.
- Use the word “CHOOSE”–this empowers the child and emphasizes that he has the control and power to change his behavior.
- Ask your child to repeat the consequence. Even if he isn’t very verbal, you need for him to repeat something back like “No hit!” or “Time Out!” so that you are assured he understands the consequence. If he can’t repeat the consequence, you need to tell him again.
2. If your child repeats the negative behavior again, go to the child and calmly say: “Max, you CHOSE to hit again and hitting is not acceptable. Now you have to sit in a time out.”
- Most children will not willingly go to time out, so you will most likely have to physically lift and carry him to the time out spot. Be prepared for him to put up a fight. Stay calm, don’t try to comfort or soothe at this point. Stay very matter of fact about what has to happen at that time.
- If your child isn’t putting up a fight, you can give him a choice to walk to the time out spot or be carried. This small choice can go a long way and set the time out off on the right foot.
3. Sit your child down on the spot and reiterate the reason for the timeout: “Max, you chose to hit and hitting is not okay. You have to sit in a time out for two minutes.” (should be one minute for each year of age.)
- In the moment of implementing time out, the focus is not on feelings or the fact that someone was hurt. The action of hitting is purely driven by impulse…telling your child that they hurt someone, or trying to make them feel guilty that their friend is crying is not affective at this time. Stay completely focused on the action/negative behavior ONLY. Again, this is about consequences for behaviors. A discussion about feelings and the fact that someone else go hurt, etc. will come later.
- Stay calm. If you are upset or frustrated, your child will pick up on it. You need to be sturdy, confident and firm. If you show signs of weakness, your child will take advantage of it!
- Consider setting a timer so that your child will have a visual or auditory cue of the time being up. We like the Time Timer for this purpose.
4. Walk away from your child, but stay nearby so that he can see you/know you are there. This will help him to feel safe that you are close, and will also discourage him from running or goofing off.
- Ignore your child if he is whining or trying to get your attention. If you need to say something, simply state: “Max you are in a time out. I will talk to you when the TO is over.” Do not engage, do not answer questions, do not allow the child to manipulate you.
- If your child jumps up and bolts from the spot, get him and return him. Reiterate again why he is in a time out and reset the clock. Repeat this FOR AS MANY TIMES as it takes for your child to stay there. This can become a battle of wills, but if you are steadfast and consistent, your child will catch on.
***REMEMBER: Most toddlers DO NOT have impulse control, so when they pop up and run, it’s not to make you mad, it’s because they are acting first on impulse. Again, your goal is to help them improve their impulse control. Empathize with this and don’t take it personally when they jump and run. You can even state “It’s hard for you to keep your body steady in one place. But you have to sit here until the timer rings.”
- I can’t reiterate how important it is for you to stay calm and neutral while you are teaching this technique. It can be so hard to stay patient when you are replacing your child for the 20th time in the spot. But I guarantee you, if you stay calm and model the behavior you’d like for your child to have, you will be more effective than if you get upset or angry with your child. If you feel yourself loosing it, have your partner step in, or rotate returning your child.
- If your child jumps up and leaves the spot when they only have 10 second left before the timer rings, you can still consider it a success (in otherwords, you don’t have to start the two minutes over again…use your judgment here!). HOWEVER, you need to walk your child back to the spot and complete the cycle. Tell him “Max, you need to stay here until the timer rings. You MAY NOT leave the time out spot until Mommy comes.”
5. Once the time out is over, go to your child and say: “Max, mommy put you in a time out because you chose to hit your friend, and hitting is not acceptable. You need to apologize.” Then give a big hug.
- Get down level to your child during the resolution and soften your tone and approach.
- Your child needs to say some word for “sorry.” Even if it isn’t entirely clear, their response if important.
- Give a big hug to comfort and reconnect with your child.
6. Return to the situation and friend and say: “Max, you need to apologize to your friend.” (Max says sorry.) “Max, you need to ask your friend if he is okay.”
- Taking your child to apologize to their “victim” of their negative behavior is very important–he needs to be accountable to the child that he hurt and modeling a successful resolution by apologizing to the friend brings the whole process full circle. Do this even if you are out in public or in a playground–find the child to apologize.
- Requiring your child to ask “are you okay?” (in whatever way he can manage to say it) is also important. Even though his behavior was impulsive and usually not with the intention to hurt, teaching him compassion from a very young age is important. It won’t sink in for a while (a real conscious and concern for how the child has hurt or impacted someone else develops around age 4+) it’s a good habit to begin to teach.
7. After that, have faith that your child has learned a little something from the time out. Let him get back to playing and interacting with his friend. What you DON’T want to do at this point is plant the seed about the negative behavior again. So try to avoid saying “Now Max, don’t hit!” The first thing he will think of is hitting. Instead remind him: “Max, make good choices and have nice behavior!”
CONCLUSION OF THE TIME OUT:
It’s important that you revisit difficult situations and negative behaviors later in the day to reiterate your expectations of your child and discuss favorable alternatives. This is also the time when you can discuss feelings, which is very important.
We like addressing those difficult times in the quiet time before bed. You can talk about it within the framework of talking about your day in general–this will give you a nice opportunity to go over all the fun things you did as well. Then you can say: “Then we had David over and you had a hard time. You hit David and had to sit in a time out. Mommy thinks you were feeling frustrated because you wanted the toy David was playing with. But we don’t hit. When you want something, you need to use your words and say “May I please have a turn?”
- You’re bringing up the incident in a neutral & brief way. You don’t need to go over every detail, but it is important to help the child link how he may have been feeling in the moment, which led to the undesired behavior. Linking feelings to the action is the beginning of helping to build your child’s social-emotional health and will give him the words and label for the way his body is physically feeling.
- Reiterate what is NOT okay to do, and then model what IS okay to say or do so that the preferred alternative is clear
- Consider having your child repeat the favorable alternative: “So Max, next time you are feeling frustrated and you want a toy, what can you say?” Depending on the child’s age and verbal ability, he can hopefully repeat “can I have a turn.” Having him repeat what to do assures you that he has heard you, but will also help him to get more tools in his toolbox to deal with his frustrations in the future.
A FEW NOTES:
*Some parents report that their kids ask for a time out and they think that means the time out isn’t affective. That’s actually not the case at all. When kids ask for a timeout, they are actually saying “I need a break” which takes a pretty sophisticated level of self-awareness.
If your child asks for a time out, let that be your cue that she is feeling overwhelmed, or needs less stimulation and tell her “Honey, you aren’t in trouble so you don’t need to sit in a time out. We can find you a quiet place to take a break….would you like to rest on mommy’s bed?” If your child insists on sitting in the time out spot, that is fine, but just reiterate that she isn’t in trouble. Some kids feel safe in their TO spot and have come to associate calming down and “regrouping” in that spot.
Good Luck implementing Time Outs in your home. Please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions.
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